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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2960

Sri Lanka: Serious concerns about security incidents in east

Geneva, 24 November, ( Security incidents in eastern Sri Lanka are driving recently returned displaced people to flee their homes once again, a spokesperson for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said on Friday, calling on the Government to take measures in response.

“We are seriously concerned about the deteriorating security situation and various incidents reported from return areas in eastern Sri Lanka,” said Jennifer Pagonis.

UNHCR spokesperson Jennifer at the press briefing, on 23 November 2007, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva said that there are around 250 displaced people, who returned to their villages of origin in the Trincomalee district a few weeks ago, after fleeing escalating violence in 2006, but they fled from their homes again this week back to welfare centres in Batticaloa district, after serious security incidents in their villages.

Ms. Pagonis cited reports of "a number of killings, abductions, incidents of harassment and general insecurity in these areas," which have prompted those who have fled to decide against any return to their villages of origin. "They said their homes have been looted and damaged, and they now have nothing to return to."

Ms. Pagonis pointed out that incidents such as these clearly affect the sustainability of returns. “Security is one of the main prerequisites for return and it is the responsibility of the government to ensure the security of returnees, she said.

The Agency also drew attention to incidents of involuntary returns to Chenkalady in Batticaloa West, where the authorities reportedly told internally displaced people who were unwilling to return that their assistance would be withdrawn if they opted to stay behind.

According to reports, displaced people, IDPs, who were unwilling to return, were informed by local authorities that their assistance would be withdrawn if they opted to stay behind. UNHCR reveal that it has received a petition from the group of 92 IDPs indicating their unwillingness to return. There are also reports of looting of shelter materials in the Batticaloa district.

The Refugee Agency urged the government to strengthen the return process and build confidence among the returnees. We warn against any further moves towards premature return until these issues are resolved.

"We reiterate our call to the Government to ensure that the returns are voluntary, safe and in line with international standards," said Ms. Pagonis.

Emphasizing that UNHCR should be fully engaged in the process, she urged the Government to work with experts in this field to ensure the rights of IDPs, as stated in international humanitarian law, are safeguarded at all times.

UNHCR is also advocating with the government to ensure that any moves to return the recently displaced population in the northern region of Mannar is carried out with transparency. They were displaced after fighting erupted in the region in September this year. “We are encouraging go-and-see visits by displaced people to the return areas to ensure that returns are fully voluntary and for UNHCR to be fully engaged in the process,” Ms. Pagonis said.

- Asian Tribune -

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