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Menik Farm IDPs gradually returning home

A scene inside the Menik Farm camp outside Vavuniya following heavy rains on 17 August 2009. Menik Farms is the largest of 14 camps in the district, with more than 208,000 residents

The population of Sri Lanka's largest remaining camp for internally displaced persons (IDPs) is dwindling at a rate of up to 2,000 people a week, with efforts being stepped up for the remaining 50,000 IDPs to return home.

"Every week, some 1,000 or 2,000 people are leaving for their homes. We in the government are doing this with the support of other international agencies, including UN agencies," Deputy Minister of Resettlement Vinayagamurthi Muralitharan told IRIN.

The 6.5 sqkm Menik Farm is by far the largest of eight displacement sites, including five Menik Farm zones, still in operation after the closure of about 40 others dotted around the Trincomalee, Jaffna, Mannar and Vavuniya districts since the war with the Tamil Tigers ended in May last year.

The government, Sri Lankan army and aid workers have been coordinating efforts - including de-mining activities - to ensure safe return for the IDPs. Authorities estimate that US$9 million is needed to continue de-mining operations through 2010 alone, and that it will take up to 20 years to clear known contaminated areas.

The government worked with security forces, the aid community and the IDPs themselves to set up the Menik Farm complex as people started fleeing the former conflict zone.

When the conflict finally ended, some 284,000 IDPs were living in camps in the north and east of the country.

Thousands of Tamils civilians have fled the fighting in the north and are now staying at government camps in and around the northern town of Vavuniya

Zelmira Sinclair/UNHCR
Thousands of Tamils civilians have fled the fighting in the north and are now staying at government camps in and around the northern town of Vavuniya
Tuesday, May 5, 2009
Not for reuse
Thousands of Tamils civilians have fled the fighting in the north and are now staying at government camps in and around the northern town of Vavuniya
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Photo: Zelmira Sinclair/UNHCR
The government and international agencies are working to ensure IDPs can return home safely

Sulakshani Perera, external relations assistant of the UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR, said that at the height of the displacement, Menik Farm comprised 13 zones and associated sites, against only five zones now.

After about six months of running Menik Farm, the government started making moves to get the IDPs home.

Returning to ruins

Many IDPs must now face the challenge of returning to communities ravaged during the fighting.

"The problem of resettling the IDPs to their original homes will not be solved until the irrigation tanks are restored, dams rebuilt, canals cleaned, roads repaired and houses rebuilt. The problem is that the government does not have the resources to do all this and neither do the IDPs," said Jehan Perera, director of the local NGO National Peace Council.

Several activities to assist IDPs and the government are under way, including:

  • The UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) has provided support to the government to help clean 3,000 wells and drill 15 new ones;

  • The World Food Programme (WFP) provides IDPs with food relief for six months from the date of return; and

  • UNHCR provides a shelter grant of US$220 paid in two instalments.


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

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