UN calls for free access to camps

UN agencies operating in Sri Lanka are calling for more access to camps sheltering internally displaced people.

UN Resident Representative Neil Buhne said their work was hindered by the nature of limited access given to them by the government while the UN’s Colombo spokesman, Gordon Weiss, said that although the restrictions had now been somewhat relaxed, it was not enough.

UNICEF spokesman James Elder said the UN and all its agencies should have free access to the camps. “This is the moment of greatest need for so many people who have arrived sick, malnourished and with wounds of war. It is critical that the UN and all its partners have full and unimpeded access to deliver vital services to this long suffering population,” he said.

However Resettlement and Disaster Relief Services minister of Rishad Bathiudeen said access to camps on foot had not been restricted as some 52 INGOs and NGOs were working in the camps.

“The problem is with the luxury vehicles coming into the camps. We have allowed all the vehicles carrying material such as building equipment, food items and medicine to drive into the camps but not other vehicles which only carry people. One has to understand what kind of chaos would be created if all 52 INGOs and NGOs start bringing their vehicles into the camps. We have allowed one vehicle per NGO point. But they say that they need to bring in more vehicles to go about inside the camps to supervise and coordinate,” he said.

Minister Bathiudeen, however, said the government would work out a proper solution in the next few days after discussing it with the UN resident coordinator and the security forces officers in-charge of the camp.

Meanwhile Human Rights and Disaster Management Ministry Secretary Rajiva Wijesinha, referring to last week’s Sunday Times news item headlined “NGOs smuggling IDPS out – Govt” notes that he did not say that there were reports of paramilitaries loitering in the camps after gaining access through NGOs.

“I did not talk of certain persons with the connivance of NGO workers being involved in any ‘plot’. Indeed I said specifically that I had no details of whose vehicles had been involved in the alleged incident, but that together with the crowding had prompted restrictions,” he said.

The Sunday Times reporter, however, says he stands by the story and adds that Prof. Wijesinha went on to explain the problems created by the NGOs and the difficulties in carrying out checks on NGO vehicles.

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