The UN was concerned about restrictions on the freedom of movement of the displaced Tamils in Sri Lanka and the slow pace in which they were being released from refugee camps.
At the same time, the envoy UN secretary-general on the human rights of internally displaced persons, Walter Kaelin, said he was impressed by the Lankan government’s demining and reconstruction efforts.
But Kaelin, who visited Sri Lanka last week, added that the restoration of freedom of movement for more than 2.5 lakh refugees held in closed camps in Northern Sri Lanka was becoming a matter of urgency, and he remained very concerned about the very slow pace of releases.
``It is imperative to immediately take all measures necessary to decongest the overcrowded camps in Northern Sri Lanka with their difficult and risky living conditions. The internally displaced persons (IDPs) should be allowed to leave these camps and return voluntarily and in freedom, safety and dignity to their homes. If this is not possible in the near future, the displaced must be allowed to stay with host families or in open transit sites,’’ Kaelin said.
Kaelin added that these steps needed to be taken as the monsoon was approaching. ``This is particularly important as the monsoon season is approaching. The camps, which were set up to respond to an immediate emergency, are not equipped to deal with heavy rains. The expected flooding of low-lying areas in the upcoming weeks is likely to cause serious threats to health and life,” Kaelin added.
Unseasonal rains in August had triggered flash floods in camps in Vavuniya and a few thousand refugees had to be moved outside the camps.
Referring to an incident of September 26 when the military had to open fire in a camp, Kaelin said, it raised serious human rights issues. `` It also underscores how interning people in large and overcrowded camps not built for prolonged stays is in itself a factor detrimental to security,” he said.