Sunday, April 5, 2009

IDPs to be resettled soon: Mahinda S.

Human Rights Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe has announced that plans are afoot to give local NGOs access to IDP camps in Vavuniya shortly. According to him, discussions regarding this have already taken place between Presidential Advisor Basil Rajapaksa and the local NGOs. The Minister also scotched rumours that the IDPs will be kept in camps for three years, as reported by many visitors to the camps recently. “We are trying to resettle them as soon as possible. The Mannar resettlement process could even end this year,” he said.

In an interview with The Nation, the Minister said that, families separated immediately after they were brought to the camp, are now being reunited, and added that, this process would continue until all the families are re-united.

Following are excerpts:

Q: What is the plight of the IDPs?

A: Approximately 62,000 have crossed over to Government controlled areas. We expect many more to come. We have established 13 transitional camps, as well as two comprehensive villages, so that, they could be made as comfortable as possible. We have invited UN agencies, as well as select INGOs recommended by the UN, to work alongside the respective Government Agents (GA) and staff. The camp management is now in the hands of a civilian authority, and comes under the Ministry of Resettlement. The ministry exercises its authority through the GAs. The Army is there only to provide security. Some of the camps, in addition to a civilian administration, have teachers coming in and holding classes for children of school-going age. The older people have been allowed to go and live with their relatives, while those who don’t have relatives, have been offered the opportunity of moving into homes for the aged, with nearly 400 taking advantage of this, while another 600 to 700 are being processed at the moment. Of course, the relatives would have to be clearly identified and their bona fide established. Besides, two villages are equipped with vocational training centres, so that, young people would be able to spend their time in a productive manner. Telephone facilities are provided to each camp, so that, they can be in touch with whoever they want. Relatives and friends meeting centres are established in every camp, so that, outsiders could meet their friends and relatives within the camps. In addition, registration is continuing and NICs are also being issued. Once this process is completed, we hope to progressively start increasing the freedom of movement. Our objective is to resettle all these people as soon as possible. The Mannar resettlement will commence and finish by the end of April, while refugees of other areas of the Wanni would also be resettled, hopefully before the end of the year. In addition to the 62,000 who have come over, there are still quite a number of civilians held forcibly by the LTTE, who need to be rescued as soon as possible.

Q: There are reports that, they might have to remain in camps for nearly three years or so. What is the truth?

A: We have never ever stated a three-year period. Our objective is to resettle them as soon as possible, hopefully, before the end of the year. But, of course, this has to be done without taking shortcuts. The villages they would be going back to live in has to be made secure. For instance, de-mining, infrastructure and administration services of the Government must be put in place, including Law and Order facilities.

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