The top United Nations humanitarian official kicked off his visit to Sri Lanka yesterday with a stop at camps housing some of the civilians uprooted during the country’s decades-long conflict to see what progress has been made in terms of releases and the remaining problems.
The three-day visit is the fourth to the country this year for Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes, who has raised the issue of internally displaced persons (IDPs) with officials on several occasions.
There were more than 270,000 displaced people staying in closed camps after the conflict between the Government and the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) ended in May. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates that about 163,000 are still there.
The residents in the camps in Jaffna that Mr. Holmes visited continue to suffer from a lack of freedom of movement and are hoping for an early return to their homes or release from the camp, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).
Mr. Holmes, who is also UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, also spoke to some of the 60,000 recent returnees to Jaffna, who were happy to be out of the camps but continue to face problems, including separation from family members, and lack of means of livelihood.
In addition, he met with the local government officials in Jaffna and was updated on the progress in the demining exercise to facilitate the return of IDPs to their areas of origin. They also discussed early recovery issues.
Tomorrow Mr. Holmes will travel to Vavuniya, where most of those who fled the violence have been staying.
He will then return to the capital, Colombo, to meet with government officials and representatives of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) working in the country.