The top United Nations humanitarian official has welcomed the recent releases of internally displaced persons (IDPs) from camps in northern Sri Lanka, and underscored the need to ensure full freedom of movement for those remaining.
John Holmes noted in particular that the Menik Farm camp contains only half the number of displaced now than it did at the end of May, when the Government declared an end to its military operations against the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).
During a joint press conference with Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama in the capital, Colombo, Mr. Holmes said he hoped to see continued progress in allowing people to leave the camps and restore their lives.
Mr. Holmes, the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, also noted that the returnees he met during the course of his three-day visit were pleased that they could return home.
At the same time, he added that the returns process could be improved, particularly through better consultation with IDPs and more timely information sharing with humanitarian partners on return plans.
Mr. Holmes reaffirmed the UN’s commitment to working with the Government to improve the returns process, and to ensure satisfactory conditions in areas of return, especially in the fields of shelter, basic services and livelihoods. Demining and mine-risk education were also important to ensuring the safety of returnees, he added.
“Both UN organizations and NGOs [non-governmental organizations] are ready to continue to help support IDPs in camps and assist returnees with their humanitarian needs, especially in terms of food, shelter, basic services, and livelihoods. The UN is also keen to support longer-term recovery and reconstruction,” Mr. Holmes said.
In addition to visiting the camps and meeting with IDPs and returnees, the UN humanitarian chief also met with Government officials, including President Mahinda Rajapaksa, as well as with members of parliament of the Tamil National Alliance during his mission – his fourth to the country this year.