UNHCR official calls on Sri Lanka to double its efforts to assist IDPs
COLOMBO, Sri Lanka, July 13 (UNHCR) - Assistant High Commissioner for Operations Judy Cheng-Hopkins has called on the Sri Lankan government to double its efforts to allocate land to displaced people and allow them to move out of the welfare centres they have been living in for more than two decades.
The government's return programme in eastern Sri Lanka was top of the agenda in talks Cheng-Hopkins held earlier this week with top government officials, including the ministers for foreign affairs, disaster management and human rights, and resettlement and disaster relief services.
In the past three months, almost 100,000 people have returned to their homes in Batticaloa district that they had been forced to flee earlier in the year due to heavy fighting between government forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.
The Assistant High Commissioner, who visited returnees in Batticaloa, urged the government to ensure the protection of internally displaced people and to make sure that returns were voluntary and sustainable. She said that to achieve this improvements were needed in health care, education and employment opportunities in the return areas.
During a visit to Vavuniya in northern Sri Lanka, Cheng-Hopkins reviewed UNHCR initiatives for durable solutions in terms of relocation and local integration. She travelled to the Thattankulam relocation site, where UNHCR has helped 130 families settle after years of living in welfare centres, and visited Kalmadu, where another relocation site is being prepared.
Cheng-Hopkins, who wrapped up her visit on Wednesday, urged the government to cede more land so that more relocation sites could be built. She stressed during the visit the need for more such initiatives if durable solutions were to be found for some 312,000 persons who have been in a state of protracted displacement for two decades.
By Sulakshani Perera in Colombo, Sri Lanka