Friday, October 09, 2009

Sri Lanka urged to close Tamil camps over health fears

Human rights group Amnesty International today called for Sri Lanka to release hundreds of thousands of war refugees held in military-run camps, saying monsoon floods could create a health crisis.

Sri Lanka has come under intense pressure to free the nearly 300,000 minority Tamils who were forced into the camps after fleeing the final months of the government’s war with the Tamil Tiger rebels earlier this year.

The government says it is trying to release some of the civilians, but the process is slow because they need to be screened for rebel ties and their villages in the former battle zone have to be de-mined. Rights groups say the screening is an excuse for keeping Tamils detained.

“(The) international community and the government of Sri Lanka can no longer ignore the voices of camp detainees to be allowed to leave,” said Yolanda Foster, Amnesty International’s Sri Lanka researcher. “Freedom of movement is now critical.”

Rights group also fear that the monsoon rains expected in the coming weeks will flood the overcrowded, low-lying camps, creating a fertile breading ground for disease.

Amnesty said the government had failed to deliver vital services to the camps, and they lacked basic sanitation facilities. Heavy rains last month sent rivers of water and sewage flowing through the tents, it said.

On Tuesday, Britain’s International Development Minister Mike Foster expressed disappointment at the progress being made in releasing the displaced and said all British funding being used to run the camps would be stopped, other than that needed to help with any emergency the rain may cause.

Sri Lanka says more than 22,000 people have been resettled from the camps and it hopes to send everyone home by the end of January.

Sri Lanka declared victory over Tamil Tiger rebels in May, ending their 25-year fight for an independent state. The UN estimates that 80,000 to 100,000 people were killed in the civil war.

© Irish Examiner

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