Global perspective Human stories

Resolving fate of 370,000 displaced Sri Lankans ‘critical’ – UN refugee agency

Resolving fate of 370,000 displaced Sri Lankans ‘critical’ – UN refugee agency

UNHCR Inspector meets with displaced Sri Lankans
The United Nations refugee agency today said it was “critical” to resolve the plight of 370,000 displaced Sri Lankans, victims of a separatist conflict that has claimed more than 65,000 lives in the past two decades, by restoring property rights, clearing landmines, and investing in housing, schools, health and other services.

As the country awaits the resumption of peace talks, UN High Commissioner for Refugees(UNHCR) Inspector General Dennis McNamara welcomed efforts by the government, UN and aid agencies that have already helped 360,000 internally displaced people (IDPs) return home since a ceasefire accord two years ago between the Liberation Tamil Tigers of Eelam (LTTE) and the government.

“It is critical that the remaining internally displaced, who still number some 370,000 individuals, are able to achieve a long-term solution to their displacement, whether that solution means returning home, relocating elsewhere or integrating into the community in which they are displaced,” he told reporters at the end of a two-week visit to one of the world’s largest IDP populations.

This requires addressing the high level of destruction of housing, returning land and property to its rightful owners, accelerating clearance of landmines and unexploded ordnance and identifying a pragmatic solution for those whose homes are in high security zones, he said.

It also means greater investment to ensure that conditions in return areas are conducive to a safe and dignified return – that families are able to earn a living, send their children to school, access health facilities and live in safety.

Mr. McNamara stressed the importance of helping minority groups, such as displaced Muslims, to return home. “The treatment of minorities in such situations is often a litmus test of the real spirit of peace, reconciliation and stable society,” he said.

Norway brokered the truce between the rebels and the government in 2002 and is moving to revive peace talks that have stalled over LTTE demands for greater autonomy in the north and east of the Indian Ocean island.