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Last updated: 29 September, 2009 - Published 12:36 GMT
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UN chief urges Sri Lanka to resettle Tamils
UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon
The United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon has warned that Sri Lanka risks creating bitterness if it fails to rapidly resettle Tamil refugees held in camps.

During talks with the Sri Lankan prime minister Ratnasiri Wickramanayake at the UN in New York, Mr Ban said further suffering under harsh conditions in the camps could lead to growing discontent.

More than a quarter-of-a-million Tamil civilians have been confined for months in government-run camps in the north of Sri Lanka.

The government says it intends to resettle most of them by the end of this year.

Matter of Urgency

Restoration of freedom of movement for more than 250,000 internally displaced persons is becoming a matter of urgency, says the Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General on the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons, Walter Kaelin.

"I remain very concerned about the very slow pace of releases,” he said in a media statement.

“I continue to welcome the Government’s stated intention that 70–80% of the displaced shall be allowed to return by the end of the year. In this regard, I was impressed by the Government’s massive demining and reconstruction efforts that I witnessed in the Mannar rice bowl,” he said.

Refugee camps

Mr.Kaelin said tht it is imperative to immediately take all measures necessary to decongest the overcrowded camps in Northern Sri Lanka with their difficult and risky living conditions.

“Restoration of freedom of movement is important to gain the confidence of the Tamil community and enable the building of a sustainable peace,” he said.


He also made several concrete suggestions with regard to resettlement and called for an improvement of the screening procedures.

“I remain particularly concerned about the slow pace of identifying those in the camps who do not pose a threat to security and the lack of transparent criteria in this regard. Such persons must not be subjected to renewed confinement and screening in districts of return. Only their immediate release from the camps will comply with the international law standards to which Sri Lanka has freely subscribed,” he said.

Refugee camps

He recommended to pursue in parallel different options: returning displaced persons to their homes, releasing IDPs – in particular persons with special needs and their families - to host families, and establishing open relief centres in transit areas for those with nowhere else to go.

“Legitimate security concerns can be addressed by other control measures than keeping people in closed camps,” said the Representative of the Secretary-General on the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons, Walter Kaelin.

Tthe Representative recalled the fate of those IDPs, including many Muslims, who have been displaced 20 or more years ago, and the need to include them into reconstruction programmes.

“Finding durable solutions for all of Sri Lanka’s displaced in line with the United Nations Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement must remain the ultimate goal of the Government,” Walter Kaelin concluded.

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