Assistance to Returning IDPs

[TamilNet, Sunday, 24 November 2002, 16:55 GMT]
By conservative statistics there are 800,000 to 1,000,000 IDPs from the North and East, and this figure might not adequately cover those having been displaced by the war of the areas Mullaitivu, Kilinochchi and Mannar. This represents some 200 – 250,000 families looking to resettle and rebuild their lives. In addition, there are more than 60,000 refugees in Indian centres, and an undocumented number living with families in the southern states of that country.

A large number of these families have been displaced for more than a decade. Many again have experienced multiple re-locations. The vast majority of the breadwinners are fishermen, subsistence farmers, agricultural labourers and unskilled workers. What has existed with them as financial resources and other coping mechanisms have long ago been exhausted.

In desperation - and in spite of minimal assistance or infrastructure being available – more than 42,000 families were identified as having moved or are in the process of moving back for resettlement. Another 100,000 families are likely to follow within a short time.

Resettlement is a crucial element in any attempt to restore normalcy for the population – not only the returnees. However, the returnees are in but few cases coming back to a situation of devastation. Homes are damaged, water supply non- existent, tank and irrigation systems broken, boats destroyed and production implements lost.

Experience indicates that the large majority of returnees are prepared to take responsibility on their part, but they must have every right to expect that a basic minimum of assistance can be provided. Such assistance has only to a very limited extent been provided so far. Government estimates indicate that US$ 1000/family will be required for a dignified resettlement and rehabilitation.

The Problem of Mines and UEOs
It is estimated that some 1.5 million mines and UEOs are located in the Vanni area alone. Similar estimates for the rest of the North and East indicate 0.5 million mines and UEOs.

The mines and UEOs represent a serious impediment to the safe return and livelihood of IDPs and those who have continued to live in these areas. Regrettably, reports are regularly documented from villages and health centres of men and women, and not the least children, having been killed or maimed in the course of trying to sustain a living.

In encouraging people to shoulder the main burden of rebuilding their lives and community, the least we must be able to do is to provide them security from these terrible remnants of the war.

Present Level of Support
There are several ongoing activities in the North and East attempting to meet some of the above challenges. However, GOSL statistics indicate that not more than approximately. US$ 20 million has been committed by donors for such needs as described above. No sophisticated level of calculation is required to understand the absolute inadequacy of such resources.

Priority Activities
For obvious reasons, SIHRN have not as yet been able to identify in any detail the actions required to meet the above needs. It is, however, envisaged that grants for families in cash or kind in order to ensure sustenance must form part of any assistance to the IDP families. Support in the form of a combination of grants and loans for rebuilding or repair of housing will be a necessity. So will assistance to repair or rebuild clean water supply and access roads to areas of settlement. Last but not least, an extensive program for "humanitarian mine action" must be embarked upon with immediate effect.


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