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Sri Lanka

Volume 711: debated on Wednesday 17 June 2009


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what financial help they will give to Sri Lanka in addition to contributions to international aid agencies to help with the resettlement of Tamils out of the displaced persons’ camps and into their former homes.

My Lords, DfID recently announced an additional £5 million in humanitarian funding to Sri Lanka, bringing the total committed to £12.5 million. That money will help the Government of Sri Lanka to meet their pledge to return 80 per cent of the 280,000 displaced population to their homes by the end of the year. All DfID humanitarian aid to Sri Lanka is provided directly to humanitarian agencies that are neutral and impartial in all contexts. The UK has no plans to provide funding to the Government of Sri Lanka.

My Lords, I thank the Minister and the Government for that Answer with regard to the £12.5 million. It is extremely welcome and much needed. Is he aware that in the refugee camps there are four United Nations organisations and four international organisations that have free access, while 14 others have to work through the government agent? The greatest problem is resources. Is he aware that India has found 1 billion rupees, while Her Majesty’s Government have spent £650 million on infrastructure projects in Iraq? Will they perhaps consider diverting some of the aid budget to six infrastructure projects in Sri Lanka?

My Lords, I welcome the noble Lord’s comments and his appreciation of the Government’s endeavours. Some 50 per cent of the £12.5 million has been spent on international agencies and NGOs; I could spend the next minute regaling your Lordships with them, but I will not, on the basis of short answers to short questions, although I am happy to provide that information if he wants me to. About £6 million remains to be spent on the endeavours that the noble Lord mentioned and we keep under review the need for humanitarian aid. The question of diversion, though, is not an issue.

My Lords, are Her Majesty’s Government making any effort to consult the diaspora Sri Lankan groups here to try to form a Sinhala-speaking and Tamil-speaking people’s reconciliation group? That could help with reconciliation back home in Sri Lanka.

My Lords, my noble friend makes an interesting point. It is and has been the Government’s view that there is no military solution to the problems in Sri Lanka. Thankfully, we have a ceasefire in hostilities and we now need to build on a political solution using humanitarian aid not only from the United Kingdom but, as has been said, from India and other quarters, and to try to rebuild a community that understands the problems that it has been through and how to avoid them in the future.

My Lords, the Minister mentioned the commitment that the Secretary-General received when he was in Sri Lanka that 80 per cent of the IDPs would be returned to their homes by the end of the year. How does he think that the many different agencies that are involved in Sri Lanka can be co-ordinated to ensure that the right balance exists between returning people to their homes and improving the appalling conditions in the camps? Does he think that the entitled donors have any role in securing the political settlement that he just mentioned?

My Lords, the noble Lord raises important questions. Through our high commission in Colombo, we are taking the opportunity to co-ordinate our efforts with international bodies, first, to look at the humanitarian situation but, beyond that, to look at the development of that country, which will depend on the international financial institutions that are being asked to provide assistance. In the political sense, it has to be for Sri Lankans to come together with the will to sit down and find a political solution. If they do that, I am sure that they will find no lack of international contributors to assist both the political and economic processes.

My Lords, what contact have Her Majesty’s Government had with the Chinese Government regarding their support for the Sri Lankan Government on the Tamil question?

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for her question. I confess that, while of course I have studied my voluminous brief for many hours, I could spend 10 minutes trying to find the answer without having a clue where to find it, because I do not think that it is there. We have an ongoing dialogue with the Chinese Government on many issues and this is one of them. I will take her question on board and seek to provide an answer.

My Lords, how will the aid be monitored in relation to those refugees who will be taken out of the camps and repatriated? I ask this particularly knowing that many women and children in those camps have been both physically and sexually abused and will need very careful therapeutic and tending help, as well as all the practical help that they need. There is a worry about how that will be monitored through the system.

My Lords, the first responsibility for that will, of course, fall to the Government of Sri Lanka, but the noble Baroness is absolutely right in saying that it is important to ensure that it is provided. The presence of the United Kingdom and such international non-governmental organisations as the International Red Cross will assist in that. I am sure that the United Kingdom Government will do everything that they can to ensure that such monitoring takes place.