Colombo (AsiaNews) – Tamil war refugees are still stuck in camps and for most of them going home remains a pipe dream. According to government figures, 75,000 out of 280,000 refugees have already returned to their villages of origin in August, but local humanitarian organisations, along with Christian communities and civil society associations, complain that many more could already be home.
The authorities blame the delay on two factors. First, de-mining in areas until recently occupied by the Tamil Tigers is difficult. Secondly, identifying refugees in the camps is a slow process.
Refugee registration remains controversial and has earned the government a lot of criticism. For the military it is necessary to re-establish the vital statistics of the northern population. But for a number of civil society leaders it is designed to create a file on refugees seen to be no better than former rebels and supporters of a possible rebirth of Tamil separatism.
On Wednesday MP Rauff Hakeem, leader of the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC), expressed the disappointment of the island nation’s Muslim community that Muslims from Musali Division, in Mannar district, have not yet been allowed to go home even though the area is almost completely de-mined.
Resettlement and Disaster Relief Services Minister Rishard Bathiudeen told parliament that de-mining has been delayed above all by “non-governmental organisations engaged in de-mining operations” which “carry out their work much more slowly than the military personnel engaged in the task.”
To this effect the new commander of the Sri Lanka Army, Lieutenant General Jagath Jayasuriya, announced the deployment of 300 more soldiers to boost the de-mining effort.
After the end of the conflict in May the Sri Lankan government had said that refugees would be home by the end of the year. However, the continued delays are raising fears that the expected deadline might not be met. This is particularly alarming for humanitarian organisations.
The humanitarian situation in refugee camps is in fact going from bad to worse, and the beginning of the monsoon season is leading to more hardships and the first deaths.