Briefing Notes, 6 November 2009
This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Andrej Mahecic – to whom quoted text may be attributed – at the press briefing, on 6 November 2009, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.
Some 90,000 internally displaced people (IDPs) have returned to their villages in Sri Lanka's north and east over the past three months, under the ongoing return plan of the Sri Lankan government.
The majority returned to the districts of Jaffna, Vavuniya, Mannar, Mullaitivu, Trincomalee, Batticaloa and Ampara. Small numbers have also gone back to the Polonnaruwa district. During the last two weeks alone, some 39,000 people have returned as part of the government's efforts to accelerate the process.
In addition, some 16,500 persons have been been released from the camps and are now accommodated with host families. This includes a number of people with special needs such as the ederly, pregnant women and those with disabilities who have been released to specialized care institutions.
In support of the government's return process, UNHCR, together with other UN agencies, is distributing relief items such as sleeping mats, bed sheets and hurricane lamps to the returnees. We also carry out protection monitoring in the return areas, verifying the return conditions. We are providing the returning families with a shelter grant of Rs 25,000 (approximately $250), as a first step towards helping them rebuild their homes and restart their lives, which they can access through the Bank of Ceylon.
UNHCR is also discussing with the government the situation in Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu to ensure that minimum return standards, such as completion of demining and access to services, are adhered to.
In addition to its overall assistance progammes, UNHCR is providing five demining flail machines to help accelerate humanitarian mine clearing operations in former conflict areas. These machines are scheduled to arrive tomorrow (7 November) and will be handed over to the government. The equipment will be immediately dispatched to the return areas in the Sri Lanka's north, where demining is being carried out by the Sri Lankan Government together with UNDP and other international and local demining actors.
Humanitarian demining and the removal of unexploded ordnance (UXO) are pre-requisites for delivery of humanitarian assistance, early recovery and development in conflict affected areas. Demining also enables infrastructure development and the resumption of social services and livelihoods.
Some 274,000 people were displaced on multiple occasions during the final months of the conflict in Sri Lanka and then accommodated in closed camps in the Vavuniya, Jaffna, Mannar and Trincomalee districts. Following the recent returns, some 163,000 people still remain in the camps where conditions are deteriorating. UNHCR and other UN agencies continue to advocate strongly with the government of Sri Lanka to expedite the return of all remaining IDPs to their areas of origin in safety and dignity and in line with international standards. We also continue to advocate for the full freedom of movement for those who are not able to immediately return to their homes or stay with friends and relatives once the ongoing phase of the return is complete.