Search

 

Cablegate: Prm Pdas Witten Examines Idp Issues

VZCZCXRO3776
OO RUEHIK
DE RUEHLM #1051/01 3241003
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
O 201003Z NOV 09
FM AMEMBASSY COLOMBO
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 0794
INFO RUCNMEM/EU MEMBER STATES COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUEHKA/AMEMBASSY DHAKA PRIORITY 2064
RUEHIL/AMEMBASSY ISLAMABAD PRIORITY 9092
RUEHKT/AMEMBASSY KATHMANDU PRIORITY 7334
RUEHLO/AMEMBASSY LONDON PRIORITY 5237
RUEHNE/AMEMBASSY NEW DELHI PRIORITY 3489
RUEHNY/AMEMBASSY OSLO PRIORITY 5175
RUEHOT/AMEMBASSY OTTAWA PRIORITY 0055
RUEHSM/AMEMBASSY STOCKHOLM PRIORITY 0710
RUEHKO/AMEMBASSY TOKYO PRIORITY 4290
RUEHCG/AMCONSUL CHENNAI PRIORITY 9655
RUEHBI/AMCONSUL MUMBAI PRIORITY 6949
RUEHON/AMCONSUL TORONTO PRIORITY 0031
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RUEHGV/USMISSION GENEVA PRIORITY 3833
RHHMUNA/HQ USPACOM HONOLULU HI PRIORITY
RUEHBS/USEU BRUSSELS PRIORITY
RHEHAAA/NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHDC PRIORITY

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 COLOMBO 001051

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

DEPARTMENT FOR SCA/INSB
GENEVA FOR RMA

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PREL PREF PHUM PTER EAID MOPS CE
SUBJECT: PRM PDAS WITTEN EXAMINES IDP ISSUES

COLOMBO 00001051 001.3 OF 003


1. (SBU) SUMMARY: The November 12-16 visit of PRM
Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Samuel Witten came
during a critical period in the ongoing humanitarian
situation in Sri Lanka. The Government is accelerating
releases from closed camps, a move welcomed by the
international community but one which also raises a host
of complex challenges regarding access and assistance
to internally-displaced persons (IDPs) and returnees.
Witten discussed with humanitarian agencies and
government officials the U.S. decision to redirect aid
away from "closed" camps where residents are held without
freedom of Movement by March 2010. Witten's discussions
revealed widespread support among UN agencies and other
donors for the U.S. redirection of assistance toward open
camps, host families, and returnees. The findings of PDAS
Witten's visit reinforced Post views that the U.S. must
continue to support the returns process while quietly
engaging Government officials on specific serious
concerns, including the closed camps and the need for
safe and voluntary returns. END SUMMARY.

RETURNS: GOOD ACHIEVEMENT,
FLAWED PROCESS
--------------------------

2. (SBU) The Government's "crash" resettlement program
began in mid-October. In four weeks, over 100,000 of the
more than 280,000 persons initially held in closed camps
have been returned to their home districts (most to Jaffna
and the East). An additional 25,000 persons have been
released to host families since August. The Manik Farm camp
population has been reduced from more than 220,000 at its
peak to just 130,000 as of November 12. The International
Organization for Migration (IOM) plays the largest role in
facilitating the Government's returns process, providing
logistics support and bus transportation back to district
collection points. Returnees also receive a standard UN-GSL
assistance package of cash, food, shelter materials, and
agricultural tools intended to provide initial support in
areas of return.

3. (SBU) Despite these positive steps, PDAS Witten heard
from multiple humanitarian agencies about key problems with
the returns program. IOM, WFP, and UNHCR generally receive
notice about returns movements with only a couple days
notice, requiring constant scrambling to put logistics into
place for moving thousands of people. Humanitarian
personnel in Vavuniya and Colombo reported to PDAS Witten
that the Government had returned a small number of persons
to areas which were not certified as demined, including two
bombed-out schools. In addition to posing a direct threat
to returnees' safety, such areas were inaccessible to
humanitarian personnel by order of the UN Department of
Safety and Security. Moreover, INGOs are currently not
permitted by the Government to access Kilinochchi and
Mullaitivu area returnees. Some areas of return lacked
community infrastructure, including schools, hospitals, and
local transportation, raising concerns of whether returns
were sustainable. Most UN agencies and national NGOs
expressed optimism to PDAS Witten that humanitarian access
issues would be sorted out in the near future, while
others, particularly INGOs, raised the alarm that the
Government was "returning them to nothing." (Comment: When
asked directly, no one expressed the view that keeping IDPs
in closed camps was preferable to the current situation,
despite the flaws in the returns process. END NOTE.)

4. (SBU) In a November 16 meeting with PDAS Witten, UN
Resident Coordinator Neil Buhne described the difficult

COLOMBO 00001051 002.3 OF 003


task of finding a balance in supporting Government efforts
to return IDPs, while raising concerns when needed. Buhne
noted to PDAS Witten a recent letter he had received from a
Government official (Commissioner General of Essential
Services), accusing the UN of "sabotaging" the returns
process after Buhne temporarily halted IOM transport of IDPs
because of safety concerns. Buhne also highlighted UN
efforts to urge Government officials to open Manik Farm
and other closed IDP camps.

MANIK FARM'S NEAR FUTURE
------------------------

5. (SBU) PDAS Witten and a delegation including USAID
Mission Director Cohn visited Manik Farm on November 14.
Witten viewed U.S.-funded assistance and talked with camp
residents. The delegation found that there is some newfound
optimism among camp residents now that significant returns
are taking place, but also frustration with the pace of
return and the uncertainty about what lies ahead. When
asked, all the residents said they wanted to return whether
or not there was assistance available in their home
villages, and most indicated that they would return to
farming as soon as they could. One visitor to the health
clinic expressed anger at his continued confinement, noting
"they're keeping us here like cattle." Family
reunifications within the camps are nearly completed,
leaving fewer families to cope with the desperation of not
knowing relatives' whereabouts.

6. (SBU) On November 13, PDAS Witten met with Brigadier
General Ranasinghe (deputy to Competent Authority, Maj
Gen-Gunaratne) at SF HQ Wanni. Ranasinghe described the
Government's plan to reduce the population in Manik Farm to
100,000 by December 31 through returns and releases, and to
70,000 by January 31, 2010. While caveating that there had
been no communications from his chain of command about this
issue, Ranasinghe expressed his personal opinion to PDAS
Witten that restrictions on freedom of movement in Manik
Farm should be lifted after January. Ranasinghe told PDAS
Witten that returns were 100 percent-completed to Jaffna.
The remaining population in the closed camps was
predominantly from Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu districts,
where there had been just 7,000 returns to date. Witten
acknowledged the efforts to date to expedite releases and
returns, and emphasized the U.S. Government's interest in
seeing freedom of movement provided to all civilians.

7. (SBU) In a November 14 meeting with UNHCR
Representative Michael Zwack and Deputy Representative
Elizabeth Tan, PDAS Witten received an update on UNHCR's
planning for the Manik Farm operation, where UNHCR holds
the UN lead for camp management, protection, and shelter
activities. Tan expressed optimism that the Government
would choose to open the camps in early 2010, particularly
given donor messages that funding for closed camps would
end soon. UNHCR is prepared to increase its activities in
the camps, particularly Zones 0 and 1 where semi-permanent
shelters are already established, if the camps were opened.
If the camps remained closed, UNHCR indicated it would
reduce its activities, such as ending assistance with
digging drainage ditches.

CONCLUSION
----------

8. (SBU) PRM PDAS Sam Witten's visit came as the
Government has taken real steps to end prolonged
confinement of IDPs. His consultations with Government and

COLOMBO 00001051 003.6 OF 003


humanitarian agency officials and with residents of Manik
Farm reinforced the USG decision to end support for a
prolonged closed-camp situation while buttressing support
for the Government's overall returns effort. Embassy finds
that there is strong support among INGOs and UN agencies
for donors to direct funding in this way. Post will continue
to engage directly with the Government on these difficult
issues surrounding returns and to identify ways to best
support IDPs in host family situations and areas of return.
BUTENIS

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
World Headlines

 

OECD: COVID-19 Crisis Puts Migration And Progress On Integration At Risk, Says

Watch the live webcast of the press conference Migration flows have increased over the past decade and some progress has been made to improve the integration of immigrants in the host countries. But some of these gains may be erased by the COVID-19 pandemic ... More>>


Pacific Media Watch: How Pacific Environmental Defenders Are Coping With The Covid Pandemic

SPECIAL REPORT: By Sri Krishnamurthi of Pacific Media Watch Pacific Climate Warriors - creative action to trigger better responses to climate crisis. Image: ... More>>

Reporters Without Borders: Julian Assange’s Extradition Hearing Marred By Barriers To Open Justice

After monitoring four weeks of evidence in the US extradition proceedings against Wikileaks publisher Julian Assange, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) reiterates concern regarding the targeting of Assange for his contributions to journalism, and calls ... More>>

OHCHR: Stranded Migrants Need Safe And Dignified Return – UN Migrant Workers Committee

The UN Committee on Migrant Workers has today called on governments to take immediate action to address the inhumane conditions of migrant workers who are stranded in detention camps and ensure they can have an orderly, safe and dignified return to ... More>>