‘Two Homes, Refugees in Both’: Contesting Frameworks – The Case of the Northern Muslims of Sri Lanka


  • Esther Surenthiraraj
  • Neloufer De Mel


Policies that address post-war displacement often reflect temporal linearity as transitional periods during which they are developed imply a shift from one situation to another. These policies obscure complexities experienced by local communities for whom displacement is ongoing and interminable. This essay applies Sri Lanka’s National Policy on Durable Solutions for Conflict-Affected Displacement (NPDSCAD) to the case of Northern Muslims who were expelled from the Northern Province of Sri Lanka in 1990 and have lived in prolonged displacement for over 25 years. For these Muslims, return-remain is an oscillation and not an either/or option. Using “frames of recognition” to analyze policy documents and data from fieldwork, the paper critically unpacks the category of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) – the displacement-related frame applied to the Northern Muslims – to reveal the multiple subject positions respondents navigate in presenting their own stance to this category. Calling for recognition of the circumstances of their displacement, the respondents’ footing to the IDP frame holds in it both needs-based and justice-based discourses and demands that Northern Muslims be recognized as political subjects. Return-remain is complicated by issues respondents face as they travel between their current home in Puttalam and origins in the North. The paper concludes that while the Northern Muslims are denied full recognition by the NPDSCAD, their complex experiences continue to contest the frames deployed by the policy.