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Sri Lanka

Volume 712: debated on Tuesday 14 July 2009


My honourable friend the Minister of State for the Department for International Development (Gareth Thomas) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

It is almost two months since the conflict ended in Sri Lanka. I would like to update the House on the humanitarian situation on the ground and to reiterate that meeting the humanitarian needs of the internally displaced people (IDPs) remains our immediate priority.

The IDPs are now all held in camps in Vavuniya, Jaffna, Trincomalee and Mannar. This population numbers almost 284,000 people. The humanitarian situation is now stabilising. Conditions in the IDP camps remain basic but continue to improve as the priority needs of shelter, food, water, medicine and immediate access to surgical treatment are gradually met. However, we remain concerned about high levels of malnutrition in the IDP population, particularly among young children, overcrowding and inadequate sanitation facilities.

We are also increasingly concerned about the lack of freedom of movement for this IDP population and the restrictions put on protection activities, including ensuring the safety of the IDPs, reuniting unaccompanied children with their families and registration of the population as a whole. We encourage the Government of Sri Lanka to do everything possible to ensure the civilian nature of the camps and allow humanitarian agencies to operate effectively on the ground through facilitating the timely provision of visas and lifting the practical restrictions that are still being imposed on entry.

We continue to engage fully with international and multilateral partners. The Prime Minister raised humanitarian access with President Rajapakse on 18 May. The Foreign Secretary also discussed the issue with the Sri Lankan Foreign Minister when they met on 5 June, as did Lord Malloch-Brown with the Sri Lankan Minister for Trade and External Development when they met on 19 June. Our High Commissioner to Sri Lanka regularly raises our concerns with senior members of the Sri Lankan Government. We urge the Government of Sri Lanka to make every effort to co-operate with international agencies, including continuing a dialogue with the ICRC on issues of humanitarian concern and to provide every opportunity for the ICRC to implement its mandate as Sri Lanka takes its first steps towards recovery.

DfID continues to support the relief effort to Sri Lanka as the situation on the ground allows. Since September 2008, we have committed £12.5 million. This month we approved £0.4 million to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) for an emergency measles and polio vaccination campaign covering all the IDP camps in Vavuniya and for the provision of nutritional supplements. I would again like to reassure the House that all DfID funding is provided directly to neutral and impartial international agencies and we will continue to support the international agencies in their life-saving work.

Looking forward, we urge the Government of Sri Lanka to do everything they can to facilitate the return of the IDPs from the camps to their homes as soon as possible, including interim options of staying with host families, and to allow freedom of movement as a priority. We welcome the Government’s public commitment to return the bulk of IDPs to their homes within 180 days. In addition, after 26 years of intermittent conflict, there remain an additional 360,000 long-term displaced people to consider who may now also wish to return to their communities of origin. We stand ready to support this work through funding international agencies that: (1) provide humanitarian demining activities; (2) enable returns through the provision of transport, shelter and access to basic services; and (3) provide livelihood recovery activities, for example through cash grants, providing seeds and tools and vocational training.