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Conflict Affect Displacement in Sri Lanka: Major Obstacles to Durable Solutions

(Vikalka photo: Sinhalese IDPs in Panama)

[Ministry of Prison reform, Rehabilitation, Resettlement and Hindu religious Affairs – Report on national policy on durable solutions for conflict affected displacement ( 3rd Draft) 7th April 2016]

It  is  imperative  that  the  Government  sets  out  a  time  frame  for  expediting  resettlement  and ensure that the bulk of the displaced find a durable solution with a settlement option of their choice  within  this  period.  The  following  are  some  of  the  major  obstacles  which  need  to  be addressed and resolved as a matter of urgency, if this objective is to be achieved.

  1. Release and Return of Land Occupied  by  the Military and  Police to  their Original Owners/Former Occupants.

The Ministry of Defence in coordination with the Ministry of Law and Order must ensure that an accurate mapping is made of all land that is or was owned, claimed or used by civilians and is currently occupied by any of the three security  forces –army, navy or air force – or by the police.  All such lands, particularly private land, should be released and returned to civilian use and ownership urgently, unless the State determines that it is required for public purpose. This purpose, be  it  national  security  or  development, should  be  carefully  scrutinised,  including  to ascertain that no alterative land can be found for the stated purpose. This also means, interalia,  releasing  land  that  is  being  used  by  the  military  for  purposes  not  related  to security  including  but  not  limited  to  agricultural  production,  tourist  enterprises,  or recreation. It must be ensured that land that is released is made safe from unexplored ordnance or other sources of danger, and returned in a state that can be used by former residents and owners for their residential or economic pursuits.

  1. Land claimed by Other Government Departments and Authorities.

There are a number  of  cases  where  government  departments  and  authorities,  including  but  not limited  to  the Forest  Department,  Wildlife  Department,  Archaeology  Department, Mahaweli  Authority,  and  Urban  Development  Authority,  have  demarcated  lands  for governmental  usage that  were  formally  owned  and  occupied  by  persons  now  in displacement, sometimes, without consulting district and provincial level authorities or adequately informing those affected.  It is imperative that the relevant Ministries take steps to address this practice and to take corrective measures to ensure that the land and property rights of those being prevented from returning to their land and/or property are recognized.

Where government departments or authorities have gazetted or otherwise laid claim to land  belong ing to  displaced  persons, these  cases  need  to  be  reviewed  in  consultation  with district-level authorities in a transparent manner, and where possible the land must be restored to the rightful owner.

  1. Reparations for Acquired Land and Property.

In exceptional cases if IDP land and property is required for public purposes , then this land will be acquired as per the existing laws.

Those affected must be accorded their full rights in accordance with Sri Lankan law and national standards, including the NIRP. The owners/former occupants of  that  land  and  property  must  receive   acceptable  alternative  land,  and/or  appropriate compensation for their lost land/property. For persons who have to relocate, needs such as shelter and livelihood should be met, access to essential services should be provided and social integration issues should be addressed.

  1. Addressing Land Claims and Disputes.

In addition to land problems highlighted in Section VII–1&2 above, and despite the significant work to address land claims and disputes,  there  are  a  number  of  lingering  cases  in  the  North  and  East  that  need  to  be resolved, especially those relating to state land. A key step is to ensure public awareness about land rights and any state process to address land claims. Immediate measures are required  to resolve  these  protracted  land  disputes  so  as  to  avoid  their  festering  and exacerbation,  particularly  those  that  are  between  communities.  This issue needs to  be taken up by appropriate Ministries including Justice and Land with the advice of district and provincial level actors.

  1. Addressing the Landless.

Displaced  persons and  refugee  returnees who  never owned  land,  or  who  were  made  landless  as  a  result  of  the  conflict,  need  a  solution, particularly if the last remaining Welfare Centres are to be closed down. Landlessness also affects  persons  who are  currently  occupying  land  of  displaced  persons or encroaching  state  land and  can  be  legally  evicted.

As  in  other  parts  of  the  country, programmes  addressing  landlessness should  be  carried  out in  the  North  and  East  in  a comprehensive manner and in consultation with the Ministry of Land and district and provincial actors.

  1. Recognising displaced populations and providing accurate data.

Given the policy of the previous Government of not recognising specific displaced populations and the continuing  problems  of  identifying  such  populations,  it  is  imperative  that  the  MOR undertake actions to ensure that populations/families who continue to be displaced are recognised and registered. MoR data should be comprehensive, up-to-date, accurate and dis-aggregated.

There  may  be  additional  populations  who  do  not  fit  the  criteria  of displaced  but  who  continue  to  be  vulnerable,  are  struggling  to  find  durable  solutions,  and/or who are attempting to secure their rights ; they need to be identified. Communities and families who were denied the basic resettlement assistance package or where their basic infrastructure needs have not been met need to be targeted  through humanitarian and  development  programmes.  The  MoR  may  find  it  necessary  to  undertake  a  rapid resettlement programme  while  working  with  other  ministries,  district  and  provincial level  actors.

An  example  of  this  is  ensuring  that  extremely  poor  displaced  people  are included  among  the  categories  of  vulnerable  when  the  Social  Services  Ministry determines Samurdhi beneficiaries.

  1. Facilitating Refugee Returns.

Policy  decisions  and  actions  need  to  be  taken  to address  key  problems  faced  by  refugees  who  are  attempting  to  return.  This  includes, inter  alia, outreach and  information  campaigns to  refugee  communities abroad,facilitating the provision of key identification documents, assisting refugees to transport goods and personal possessions acquired in exile, ensuring that refugee returnees will

be eligible to receive the same types of  assistance that are available to  IDP returnees, ensuring that educational and professional qualifications earned abroad are recognized where  applicable including  for  school  admission  requirements, and  that  security screening   programs   are   conducted   without   undue   delays.

Targeted   assistance programmes, including for livelihoods and for social integration, need to be developed.

Refugee  returns  are  likely  to  continue  over  a  period  of  several  years  and  will  extend beyond  the  period  targeted  for  ending  internal  displacement.  While  the  Ministry  of Resettlement will play an active role in this task, including in ensuring more effective monitoring of refugee returnees at the district level, it will require the assistance of other ministries including Education, Health and Social Services amongst others.

  1. Provision of Shelter and Basic Infrastructure.

Given the continuing gaps in terms of temporary and permanent shelter the Ministry will introduce programmes to address both  sets  of  needs.  Temporary  shelter  is  required  in  areas  that  have  been and  will  be released.  While  there  have  been  a  number  of  permanent  housing projects,  there  are continuing  needs  across  the  North  and  East  that  need  to  be  urgently  addressed.

Affordable housing must be provided in consultation with the affected communities. As noted  in  Section  IV–3.5,  the  beneficiary  selection  process  needs  to  be fair  and transparent.

Priority assistance must be given to vulnerable groups including the persons with disabilities, female-headed households and the elderly. In addition to the provision of shelters, basic household needs include access to safe and clean water for drinking and other household requirements, toilets, and community infrastructure including for education, health and transportation.

  1. Support for Sustainable Livelihoods.

Displacement forced many to lose their jobs and  livelihoods and  they  will  only  attain  a  durable  solution  once  families  are  able  to maintain a secure income.  It is necessary for the Government to introduce programs to enable returnees to restart their former livelihoods, or to receive training to take up new fields  of  employment.  This is  a  particular  challenge  for  women-headed  households, persons disabled by the conflict, former combatants and youth who are now approaching adulthood. It is necessary for the Government to review existing programmes in order to  devise  projects  that  will  address  gaps  and  failings, for  example to  ensure  that economic infrastructure for communities are strengthened including access to markets and  resources  such  as  irrigation  water  for  farmers  and  jetties  for  fisherpersons.  This requires  the  cooperation  of  other  Ministries  and  Departments,  such  as  Irrigation, Fisheries, and Agriculture.

In the design of economic policies at both the national and regional  levels,  including  by  the  Ministry  of  National  Policies  and  Economic  Affairs and the Ministry of Finance, the economic and social impact of the conflict including displacement need to be acknowledged and addressed.

  1. Ensuring Justice, Reparations and Coexistence.

The  Government  needs  to ensure that the displaced and displacement-affected have access to justice, which means, inter alia, being able to bring their complaints to the police (including to officers who are proficient in  Tamil  and  to  female  police  officers),  to  the  courts,  and  to  other grievance mechanisms, be provided with legal aid where this is needed and medical and psycho-social  support  where  required.  In  addition,  transitional  justice  issues  must  be addressed. As part of this effort the Government should set out a comprehensive policy for  reparations  relating  to  loss,  including  compensation  for  persons  killed,  missing  or disabled, and for economic losses, ensuring recognition of the issue of displacement and its  impact.

Eligibility  for  such  reparations  or  compensation  packages  should  include persons  who  worked  in conflict-affected  areas  although  they  were  not  residents  and therefore  are  not  eligible  for  resettlement  assistance  packages.    Given  the  challenges relating to tensions and hostility between and within communities, including at an ethnic level,  measures  to  acknowledge  these  grievances  and  to  create  trust  and  coexistence should be designed. As a part of this effort, programs should be undertaken to sensitise government officials at the district and central levels on issues such as displacement and continuing problems for return and reclaiming of rights.

  1. De-Mining:

One legacy of the conflict that still has not been completely addressed is  mines  and  unexploded  ordnance  (UXO)  that  continue  to  threaten  the  safety  and security  of  persons  in  the  conflict-affected  areas. According to  the  Sri  Lankan  Mine Action Strategy 2016-2020, the target is for Sri Lanka to be mine-impact free by 2020.

While  significant  areas  have  been  cleared,  there  are  still  areas  where  de-mining  is required , or which need  to be resurveyed, in 10  districts of the Northern, Eastern  and North-Central  Provinces.

There  is  also  a  continuing  need  for  Mine  Risk  Education, particularly  because  being  mine-impact  free  does  not  rule  out  the  possibility  of  there being residual risk. As the de-mining unit is under MoR it needs to ensure that funding is made available for the remaining work. There is an urgent need for Treasury and MoR to  ensure  clear  budgetary  allocations  for  the  next  four  years  so  that  the  work  can  be completed.

Read the full report on line here or as a PDF here:NATIONAL POLICY ON DURABLE SOLUTIONS FOR CONFLICT -AFFECTED DISPLACEMENT April 7 3rd Draft


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