No change in dire camp conditions - CAFOD

[TamilNet, Thursday, 10 September 2009, 11:41 GMT]
As monsoon floods loom, CAFOD (Catholic Fund for Overseas Development) has called on Sri Lanka’s government “to end the forced confinement” of hundreds of thousands of Tamil civilians. “Nothing has changed over the last three months for the people that are living in the camps. They are overcrowded with poor sanitary conditions and inadequate health care,” CAFOD’s head of international programmes said this week. Another CAFOD official who visited one of the barbed-wire ringed militarised camps told the BBC this week that “a potential crisis could brew there if the rains come through and those camps are still as congested as they are [now].”



Despite pledges to the international community to resettle most of the displaced Tamils by end of the year, CAFOD says little has been done while freedom of movement for the people in the camps remains restricted, as is access to the camps by the international community.

“At the moment this process [of return] is painfully slow. The Sri Lanka government must make good its commitment by making a start and allowing the most vulnerable groups to return home,” CAFOD said in a statement.

Meanwhile, CAFOD official Geoff O'Donoghue visited the camps with two British bishops, the BBC reported.

The full text of the CAFOD statement follows:

We are calling on the government of Sri Lanka to end the forced confinement of hundreds of thousands of survivors of the country’s long and bloody conflict and allow them to go home

Since the war ended, more than 280,000 Tamil survivors are still living in overcrowded and unhealthy conditions in camps in the north of the island.

Freedom of movement for people forced to leave their homes remains restricted, as is access to the camps by the international community.

Pauline Taylor McKeown, CAFOD's head of international programmes, says: “Like many of these situations, the dilemma is that the issue has faded from the headlines but the problem has not gone away.

“There are no bombs going off around them anymore but the hardships they face are a long way from being over. The majority of these people are civilians and it is difficult to see what security threat they could pose.

Overcrowded

“Nothing has changed over the last three months for the people that are living in the camps. They are overcrowded with poor sanitary conditions and inadequate health care.

“There are concerns about what may happen when the monsoon rains arrive in the next couple of months.

“They need to know what is going to happen to them next and part of this is knowing when and where they will live. It’s vital their homes are made safe so they can return as quickly as possible

“The people have basic food and supplies but many remain traumatised and due to restricted movement are still separated from their families causing even more distress.

“There are thousands of orphans, elderly people, and those with disabilities who are helpless and need to be moved urgently.

“They need to know what is going to happen to them next and part of this is knowing when and where they will live. It’s vital their homes are made safe so they can return as quickly as possible.

“At the moment this process is painfully slow. The Sri Lanka government must make good its commitment by making a start and allowing the most vulnerable groups to return home.”

We are working through our partner Caritas Sri Lanka, who have had staff killed during the conflict. They have been able to get into to the camps shortly after they were set up at the end of the conflict.

Caritas Sri Lanka is distributing food and other essential items to over 70,000 people. They also provide a limb-fitting service to those injured during the conflict, as well as trauma counselling and schooling for children.”

Freedom needed

They are hopeful because they are living without shelling and conflict. We must do everything we can to keep this hope alive

Fr Damian Fernando, director of Caritas Sri Lanka, says: “These people have suffered massive hardship and have much more to face. It is freedom that they need. They must be able to find their families and be resettled as soon as possible so they can lead dignified lives.

“People must be allowed to go home and the international community must be there to help them rebuild their lives so they can start to earn a living and have the freedom to live on their own without aid.

“It’s important to say that despite what has happened to them and the suffering they still face the people in the camps have not given up their fight for life.

“They are hopeful because they are living without shelling and conflict. We must do everything we can to keep this hope alive.”

On August 15th an unprecedented number of Sinhalese pilgrims in their tens of thousands were free to travel and attend the famous feast at the Our Lady of Madhu Shrine.

Due to the conflict, this area has been inaccessible to people from the south for many years.

Both the new Archbishop of Colombo and the Bishop of Jaffna called for lasting peace and spoke against the continued detention of the internally displaced people, recognising that they did not have the freedom to come and worship.

Jaffna Bishop Thomas Sauvdranayagam, himself a Tamil, said: “We look forward to the day when our brothers and sisters living in camps will settle down in their home towns to begin a new and better life.”

 

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