UN humanitarian chief welcomes return of displaced in Sri Lanka
Posted on November 18th, 2009

United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA)

“Return must be both voluntary and informed”

(Colombo/New York, 18 November 2009): United Nations Under-Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator John Holmes concluded the second day of his three-day mission to Sri Lanka today with visits to Vavuniya in the north and Mannar in the northwest.

In the morning, the ERC met General Kamal Guneratne, the Competent Authority (CA), and Mrs. Charles, Government Agent for Vavuniya, in charge of Menik Farm camp for internally displaced people (IDPs) near Vavuniya. They reiterated the commitment of the Government to ensure the return of all IDPs in the camp by the end of January 2010. Currently, some 150,000 IDPs remain in camps, including 135,000 in Menik Farm, approximately half the population at its peak.

In a visit to the camp, the ERC noted that, besides the considerable progress in decongesting the camp, the shelters for IDPs were in acceptable condition despite the rains, thanks to efforts at reinforcement, and that there had been no major disease outbreaks, despite the onset of the monsoon. The ERC visited a clinic, a rehabilitation centre for handicapped people, including those with conflict-related injuries, a school, a supplementary feeding centre for malnourished children run by UNICEF, and a vocational training programme for women. Displaced people with whom the ERC spoke confirmed their desire to return home, but wanted more information about the return process, including the time of their own return and details of the support they would have on arrival.

In Mannar, Mr. Holmes met displaced people in the process of returning, who were being provided relief supplies, and schoolchildren who had just restarted classes in their local school after a two-year absence. All expressed their relief at being allowed to return home, but concern about their future, particularly how quickly they would be able to resume farming and fishing.

On returning to Colombo, Mr. Holmes met Rohitha Bogollagama, Minister of Foreign Affairs, and other Government representatives. Mr. Holmes welcomed Mr. Bogollagama’s assurance that the Government was committed to ensuring full freedom of movement for IDPs. The ERC also welcomed the recent progress in allowing IDPs to return home while expressing concerns about the process, including the need for greater consultation with the IDPs themselves and assurances that demining had been fully completed and basic services provided in the areas of return.

Tomorrow, Mr. Holmes is scheduled to meet Minister of Disaster Management and Human Rights Mahinda Samarasinghe, Secretary of Defense Gotabaya Rajapaksa, head of Uthuru Wasanthaya””‚the 180-day resettlement and reconstruction program in the North–Basil Rajapaksa, and President Mahinda Rajapaksa.

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