By Alok Bhatt
Impunity Watch Reproter, Asia
COLOMBO, Sri Lanka – The Sri Lankan government has at least conceded to and begun releasing the remaining internally displaced persons from war-time refugee camps. Over 120,000 Tamil ethnic minorities have been taking refuge in government-run camps since the late defeat of the Tamil Tiger insurgency group this May. Despite international pressure from the U.N. and various NGO’s and other human rights organizations, the Sri Lankan government has been obstinate in the full release of IDP’s from the refugee camps.
The Sri Lankan government has cited concerns that estranged Tamil Tigers may be hiding among the civilian Tamils. To supposedly ameliorate the potential problems of enemy militants among the non-combatant nationals, the Sri Lankan government executed a comprehensive screening program to identify and remove Tamil Tigers from the refugee camps. The Sri Lankan government also claimed that landmines could be located in the vicinities outside of the refugee camps and refused to release IDP’s en masse until all of them were located and safely defused or detonated. The effectiveness of these safety measures does not seem to have been reported, but, assuming the honesty of the Sri Lankan government, its willingness of to at last release IDP’s suggests success.
Although the Sri Lankan government has finally folded to international pressure, myriad concerns persist. Transport out of the camps poses a significant obstacle for many who were taken to camps far away from their home. Also, many people who have had their homes destroyed by the war or monsoon season no longer have a place to go. Many have opted to stay in the camps, since evacuation is not compulsory. Rather, all restrictions on IDP’s have been lifted, enabling them to enter and exit the camp areas at their whim.
Although the camp areas are essentially open ground for the IDP’s, Sri Lankan officials have issued statements declaring that the security levels within the camps will not decrease.
The decision to release IDP’s comes after many unfulfilled promises by the Sri Lankan government. The full release is a significant step towards the government actively reinstituting the liberties it took from hundred-thousands of Tamil ethnic minorities by subjecting them to the derisory conditions of the refugee camps. IDP’s continually voiced complaints about unlivable environments and a scarcity of food, clothes, and shelter. Furthermore, the monsoon season of the summer months made the transportation of aid and other amenities quite difficult.
Following the recent release of IDP’s, the Sri Lankan government aspires to close the refugee camps completely by the beginning of 2010.
For more information, please see:
Al-Jazeera – Sri Lanka opens Tamil Camps – 1 December 2009
BBC News – Sri Lanka war refugees leaving military camps – 1 December 2009
The Globe and Mail – Tamil refugees free to leave Sri Lankan Camps – 1 December 2009