Sri Lankan government officials aim to resettle more than 100,000 internally displaced people (IDPs) by April after missing a self-imposed deadline to move everyone out of camps in the country’s north by end-January.
Rishad Bathiudeen, Minister of Resettlement and Disaster Relief Services, said the delay was due in part to incomplete demining activities in northern areas. “It has impeded the resettlement process. The area needs to be completely safe for the people to resettle,” Bathiudeeen told IRIN.
“Administrative structures [in the areas] are now completely restored. They are also functional. Most schools, co-operatives and hospitals are now functioning,” he added.
A fortnight after re-electing incumbent President Mahinda Rajapaksa for another six years, Sri Lanka’s political focus is now on electing a new parliament, with the poll set for 8 April.
The secretary of the Ministry of Resettlement and Disaster Relief Services, ULM Halaldeen, admitted there had been a delay in the resettlement process in the run-up to the presidential election on 26 January.
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However, he said all the IDPs should be resettled by the time the parliamentary election is held, and insisted they would be able to vote.
“Come April, they all will be resettled in their own homes and leading more normal lives,” Halaldeen told IRIN. “This is a process and we are continuing to resettle people at our earliest,” he said.
As of 5 February, there were more than 106,000 IDPs remaining in camps in the districts of Vavuniya, Mannar and Jaffna, according to the UN, citing government agents. About 160,000 IDPs have been returned to their districts of origin, while 29,060 people have been released from temporary camps into host families and elders’ homes.
More than 280,000 were displaced in the fighting and living in government camps soon after the war ended in May 2009.
At the same time, the latest report issued by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) warns of funding shortfalls from February for agencies operating in Menik Farm, the largest IDP camp.
The lack of funding is expected to affect services, including the maintenance of sanitation facilities, provision of food and education, it says in the report to 29 January.
It also says that most returnees have expressed satisfaction at restarting their lives in their areas of origin but notes several challenges, including insufficient basic services, transport limitations and damaged or destroyed property and shelters.
“Indications of tensions among communities arriving at different stages of the return process had surfaced, with the civil administration indicating that it would [be] strengthening its role to support resolution of disputes,” it says.
Legislators representing Sri Lanka’s northeastern provinces also expressed concern over the practicality of resettlement initiatives.
As a result of these, IDPs would be grappling with “uninhabitable homes without the necessary facilities to help them lead a normal life”, said Tamil National Alliance (TNA) parliamentarian, Suresh Premachandran. “It will take at least two years to resettle people properly with their infrastructure needs being met.”
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions