Fisherfolk protest to defend their lands and waters from luxury tourism development

On August 2nd, the National Fisheries Solidarity Movement of Sri Lanka (NAFSO), in collaboration with STP-Swiss and Oxfam-NL, carried out a protest against the ongoing grabbing of land and coasts for the development of luxury tourism facilities.

The demonstration took place in the coastal area of Pasikuda, on the Eastern coast of Sri Lanka,  where the conference of the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) was held between 11 and 14 of July. According to the UNWTO “community engagement and empowerment, capacity building and training, and public/private sector partnerships are key factors in advancing a culture of peace through tourism in post-conflict societies.” Accordingly, the conference concluded that tourism can play a key role in building peace and supporting reconciliation processes.

The protest in Pasikuda follows on several other demonstrations in various parts of the country against the corporate-led model of tourism development which has facilitated the seizure of coastal lands, which are prized by fisherfolk due to the access these lands provide for the waters where they fish in order to sustian their livelihoods. Land grabs, and dispossession of fisher folk from access to the coastline, has been an overriding feature characterizing the development of the tourism sector in Sri Lanka today; often carried out by members of the military. Many of the fisherfolk, whose lands, waters and livelihoods are being threatened by the seizure of coastal areas, were already impacted by the country’s civil war and have experienced previous instances of displacement.

Despite these serious human rights concerns, the UNWTO Secretary General stated that tourism development in Sri Lanka is moving in the right direction and assured the public that tourism would contribute to the reconciliation process following the decades-long conflict that beset the country. NAFSO has raised concerns that the benefits to corporate investors from this model of tourism development have been prioritized over the well-being and livelihood of the area’s fishers.

In Pasakuda, fisherfolk were particularly concerned after they had agreed to cede many of their coastal lands for the purposes of tourism development and were relegated a small area (approximately 350 meters) of coastline where they could store their boats. In the lead-up to the UNTWO conference, the Prime Minister of Sri Lanka reportedly announced that the remaining 350 meters of coastline would soon be confiscated, also for the purposes of the development of tourism structures.

NAFSO and its members, organized fisherfolk and their families, are demanding free access to the sea from their anchorage point and an end to their forceful eviction from the coastal areas where they base their livelihoods. Further displacement has reportedly been threatened by the country’s Prime Minister, in order to benefit the ongoing development of tourism facilities.