More than fifteen thousand have been reported missing in Sri Lanka by the end of last year, reveal figures released by the International Committe of Red Cross (ICRC).

The annual report unveiled in Geneva by ICRC President Jakob Kellenberger says,”thousands remained unaccounted for, leaving relatives without definitive information about their fate” in Sri Lanka.

In its report describing the harm that armed conflicts inflict on populations around the world, the ICRC says that it has been trying to trace 15,780 people in Sri Lanka at 31 December 2011. A vast majority of them are men, while tracing cases for 1494 children and 754 women are also being handled by the ICRC. Only a few as 136 people have been traced to their families. The ICRC has visited 17,741 detainees during the past year.

The ICRC’s latest revelation of the missing people, comes two years after a UN appointed three-member panel ‘estimated that there could have been as many as 40,000 civilian deaths’ in the Sri Lankan government’s final offensive against Tamil Tiger rebels.

Restrictions to livelihood, food and water

While the ICRC says that most of the 2,80,000 civilians displaced by May 2009 have been sent back from the camps ‘to their areas of origin’ the government of Sri Lanka says that the number resettled in the north is 482,326. The Resettlement Ministry say that they belong to 145,830 families. In a meeting in Colombo with USAID Deputy Director Trekor Hublin in May, Minister for Resettlement Gunaratna Weerakoon has assured that the Six thousand five hundred in Menik Farm will be sent back by August 2012. However, Minister Weerakoon has said “rebuilding them back to their normal life will take at least five more years”

Pulling out ICRC assistance from war affected northern Sri Lanka on a government order has severely affected the war displaced who had been sent back from camps to their places of residence or to designated settlements. The ICRC report say that returnees found ‘damaged or neglected infrastructure, such as water supply systems, and faced the daunting task of restarting livelihood activities’. However, following a government order in 2010 to close the ICRC’s offices in the north and to cease assistance activities, plans to implement livelihood activities have been cancelled. Government-imposed restrictions on ICRC access to resettlement areas has also prevented it from carrying out planned water supply projects and from systematically monitoring civilian welfare.

The report also finds fault with the government for not allowing the ICRC to carry on planned assistance in the north to returning war displaced. Following the closure of its remaining offices in the north the ICRC says that it had to cancel programmes including ‘the provision of seed and tools to farmers to boost crop production; the provision of tackle to fishermen to help them resume livelihood activities; cash grants or vocational training to vulnerable families to invest in improving their future; and the rehabilitation and/or extension of municipal water systems’.

Around the world the ICRC has visited more than 540,000 detainees in 2011, about 28,900 of whom were monitored individually, in 1,869 places of detention in 75 countries and 5 different international courts.It has also established the whereabouts of more than 7,000 people for whom tracing requests had been filed by relatives and reunited around 1,500 people with their families. It had conducted assistance programmes in 80 countries.

www.jdslanka.org

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