Donors are increasingly concerned over the conditions in Sri Lanka’s camps for internally displaced people (IDPs) and are less likely to provide funding if they continue to restrict IDPs’ freedom of movement, say UN officials.
Neil Buhne, the UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Sri Lanka, said the response from donors to humanitarian needs had been good, but there was frustration over the closed nature of the camps.
“Among the donors we talked to, there is a hesitation in terms of their assistance to camps over the next three or four months if there’s not significant progress on people returning, or larger numbers of people being allowed to leave,” Buhne told IRIN.
“Donor fatigue is really in respect to continuing these closed camps… Donors have not said no, but they have indicated their concerns to us,” he said.
Nearly 300,000 people fled the fighting in the country’s northeast in the final months of the 26-year civil war between the government and the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in May.
More than 245,000 people are still in temporary camps in the north, according to the latest humanitarian update from the UN on 9 October. Only 13,336 people have been released from temporary camps to host families and another 13,502 have returned to their places of origin in the country’s north and east.
|A scene inside the Menik Farm camp on 16 August following heavy rains. Massively overcrowded, the camp became a sea of misery and mud|
The government has steadfastly said it is committed to resettling the IDPs, but is under growing pressure from the international community over the rate and manner that people are being released.
It has said it will resettle up to 80 percent of the IDPs by year’s end, and defended the pace of releases by saying it had to screen people to filter out any LTTE rebels, or those with links to rebels, in the camps.
The government announced on 22 October that it had begun resettling 41,685 IDPs in the former LTTE-controlled districts of Vavuniya, Mullaitivu, Mannar and Kilinochchi in the north.
Even so, disquiet from the international community over the lack of what donors say are basic humanitarian principles of care in the camps has become increasingly vocal in recent weeks.
Citing concerns over the closed nature of the camps and their living conditions, David Miliband, the British Foreign Secretary, on 14 October said his government would withdraw all funding except for life-saving emergency interventions in camps.
Donors say they want to see a number of benchmarks achieved by the government in the treatment of IDPs and camp conditions. These include freedom of movement for the IDPs, unhindered access for aid agencies to the camps, transparency in the government’s resettlement process and plans, and the assurance of a voluntary and safe return for the IDPs.
“There have been numerous promises, but there needs to be tangible change. We want concrete action instead of promises,” a senior official from a western donor agency told IRIN.
“If the camps open, then I think there will be a lot of donors willing to give more. But as it stands, the concerns are too great to continue to support a closed camp scenario,” the official added, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Besides direct donor funding for agencies and their projects, money for the humanitarian response in Sri Lanka has been channelled through the 2009 Common Humanitarian Action Plan (CHAP).
With the large influx of IDPs in the last months of the war, a revised CHAP in July identified funding requirements of about US$270 million for 185 projects, and Buhne said the donor response had been “pretty good”.
The best funded sectors are food, shelter and water and sanitation, while health and education are lagging, he said.
As of 23 October, $155,092,037, or more than 57 percent of the funding requested for the CHAP had been secured, while total humanitarian funding stood at $209,758,256, with uncommitted pledges of $7,194,828.
Agencies are now preparing for the 2010 CHAP, and Buhne said donors were shifting their emphasis to helping people pick up their lives, and moving away dependence on outside assistance.
“The message we’re getting is that it may be difficult to sustain the amount of funding we’ve had over the last months into 2010,” he said.