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United Nations Calls for Faster Resettlement of War Refugees in Sri Lanka

  • Anjana Pasricha

The United Nations is calling for faster resettlement of war refugees in Sri Lanka, and warns that it will not indefinitely fund a camp which houses tens of thousands of Tamils displaced by the fighting in the country. A quarter-century-long civil war ended in the country in May.

The Menik refugee camp in northern Sri Lanka is cramped with nearly a quarter of a million Tamils who fled their homes to escape fighting in the months before the military defeated the Tamil Tigers.

The government says the refugees will be allowed to return to their homes after screening them to determine who might be former Tamil Tiger guerrillas. It has said a majority of the Tamils will be sent back to their villages by the end of the year.

However, United Nations spokesman in Colombo, Gordon Weiss, says they are not seeing enough progress in return of the displaced Tamils to their homes. He is calling for more transparency from the government as it tries to weed out the former militants.

"We want to be clear that we expect people will be allowed to return home very soon and much faster than is taking place at the moment," he said. "We want to understand how people are being screened, because there are a lot of people inside these camps who clearly present no appreciable security risk to the government, lots of women with young families, lots of young children, separated and orphaned children, people who are ill."

U.N. spokesman Weiss says it is not possible to indefinitely fund the camps, which are being run with assistance from the UN and other international donors.

"There needs to be a degree of clarity about how this money is being spent, what it is being spent for, in other words there needs to be a conclusion because the involvement of the United Nations in these camps is on the understanding that the people will not be there for a long time," he said.

A government official said Friday nearly 10,000 people had been dispatched out of the camp to their villages in northern and eastern Sri Lanka. This is in addition to some young children, elderly people and priests who were earlier allowed to leave the camp.

However, the total number released so far is just a fraction of the refugee population in the camps.

While the government cites security reasons for their detention, human rights groups have questioned why the refugees need to be confined after the civil war has ended.

The Tamils are an ethnic minority in Sri Lanka. The quarter century long civil war in the country was fueled by complaints of discrimination against the Tamils by the majority Sinhalese community.