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Sri Lanka: internally displaced persons and returnees need protection
18 January 2011

Displaced persons still suffering nearly two years on, Mannar. Sri Lanka (Peter Balleis SJ/JRS)
In 2010, lack of funding prevented Landmine clearance agencies from keeping up with the fast pace of returns since late 2009.
Rome, 14 January 2011 – Although more than 190,000 internally displaced persons have returned to their homes, they are still in need of protection and assistance, according to a report by the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre.

Moreover, at the end of last year, more than 320,000 people who had fled their homes due to the armed conflict before and after 2008 were still displaced in Sri Lanka.

Approximately 100,000 have been displaced for between two to three years. Of this number, 26,000 people are staying in temporary camps in Vavuniya and Jaffna districts, 71,000 living with host families and 1,800 in transit camps in their districts of origin. A further 227,000 have been displaced for more than three years, of which 70,000 are from areas that were declared High Security Zones.

Many High Security Zones in the north and east have remained in existence in spite of the defeat of the Tamil rebels, the LTTE, by government forces in May 2009, and people displaced from these areas have not received information as to when the military occupation of these zones will end.

Moreover, the report continued, military spending remains a priority in the government’s budget, with only a small amount of money attributed to supporting IDPs and returnees. At the same time, humanitarian agencies providing assistance and protection faced funding shortages and access restrictions.

Landmines and services

Until humanitarian clearance operations started in earnest in late 2009, the contamination of conflict-affected areas with landmines and unexploded ordnances (UXO) was an important obstacle to the return of IDPs. In 2010, lack of funding prevented clearance agencies from keeping up with the fast pace of returns since late 2009.

Consequently, access to food, health services, sanitation facilities, livelihood opportunities, education, and transport facilities was limited in many areas surrounding return villages.

However, neither is the situation good in the camps where sanitation is poor and healthcare and educational services are lacking. The absence of durable shelter and housing is a problem both in camps and in return areas, and there is no framework for resolving conflicting claims to the same land and property by different IDPs.

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James Stapleton
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