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UN expert urges Sri Lanka to ensure physical security of internally displaced persons

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"Physical security for the internally displaced persons (IDPs) is the key". Apart from rehabilitation and shelter, the UN independent expert on IDPs has called for long- and short-term security, sustainable livelihood and humanitarian access for IDPs in Sri Lanka.

(Bangkok) The United Nations had called on Sri Lanka to provide measures to protect and assist Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) and stressed that physical security of IDPs is a primary responsibility of the government.

UN Representative to the Secretary General on internally displaced persons Walter Kälin said the physical security of the IDP is a key issue as they fear attacks by the Liberation Tamil Tigers of Elam (LTTE), disappearances, abductions and looting. He added that he was struck by "a pervasive sense of fear and uncertainty" of people in the country.1

Kälin also voiced concern about "threats, abductions and killings of aid workers, looting of humanitarian assets, and little response by police authorities in some cases".

"Finding sustainable solutions will not only allow IDP and returnees to fully enjoy their human rights, but also crucially contribute to restoring stability in the country", Kälin stated.

"Allowing the displaced to lead lives with decent housing and full access to livelihoods and services, and preservation of their right to opt for eventual return and their property rights are not mutually exclusive", he added.

"Significant efforts in this area will be an important step towards durable peace in Sri Lanka".

During his one-week visit to the country, Kälin met government officials, members of civil society and the international community in Colombo. He also visited areas in Puttalam, Vavuniya, Trincomalee and Batticaloa districts, where he met IDP and returnees, community and religious leaders. Although he could not visit LTTE-controlled territories, he met LTTE officials to discuss humanitarian and protection concerns.

Meanwhile, Kälin commended Sri Lanka for not only rehabilitating the majority of the 2004 Tsunami victims, but also made considerable efforts to assist those displaced since the escalation of hostilities in 2006.

Referring to a report by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, he added that  "The majority of the more than 220,000 persons who had to flee their homes in the Eastern Province between April 2006 and March 2007 have returned, been provided with transitional shelter, and are beginning to regain their former lives".

"While I appreciate what has been achieved, targeted measures in line with international human rights standards and the United Nations Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement in the areas of security, livelihoods, and humanitarian access are essential if these returns are to be sustainable in both the near and long-term".

Kälin urged the authorities to restore full access to livelihood and find an optimal balance that allows people to live in both dignity and safety. He said that he was particularly concerned about the precarious situation of widows and families without fathers.

He proposed that better information sharing and consultations between the government and the IDP would help reduce the prevailing sense of insecurity among local and international communities. This will also facilitate the reintegration of returnees.

Noting the challenges that non-governmental organisations (NGOs) face as they provide humanitarian assistance in areas of return, Kälin commented that better access for them would improve confidence among IDP populations. This was because agencies can identify and promptly facilitate the local resolution of individual concerns.


1 "UN Expert Emphasizes Sustainable and Durable Solutions for Sri Lanka’s Internally Displaced Persons",