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Close the camps in Sri Lanka – thestar.com

[MISC, Tuesday, 20 October 2009 10:05 No Comment]

Sri Lanka’s postwar human exodus is washing up on faraway shores: Hundreds of Tamils have reached Indonesia and Australia, and others apparently are being drawn here. While authorities are still investigating, the Canadian Tamil Congress says 76 men from the merchant ship Ocean Lady off the British Columbia coast are Tamil refugees.

"Sri Lanka has become hell for Tamils and they have to get out," says Congress spokesperson David Poopalapillai. Others who fled to Indonesia have made the startling claim that they are facing "genocide."

While that strains belief, the Sri Lankan military continues to hold some 260,000 Tamils in detention camps, in poor conditions, five months after shattering the Tamil Tiger insurgency in mid-May. The government says only some 30,000 have been sent home. Tension in the camps is reportedly reaching the boiling point.

The centres are miserable, overcrowded, and short on fresh water and sanitation. The impending monsoon season threatens to disrupt food deliveries, flood tents, spread sewage and ruin drinking water. That raises the spectre of dysentery, typhoid and other diseases.

After fighting eased, the Colombo government promised camps would be closed in six months. Clearly, that is not going to happen.

It should come as no surprise that some people will be tempted to flee a country that is so slow to heal its wounds.

That leaves Canada and other countries of asylum in a fix. More Tamils are bound to flee if they can’t live normal lives. We can either grant them asylum, or ship them back to a clouded future. The better course would be for President Mahinda Rajapakse to close the camps, restore normalcy and make flight a less desirable option.

While Sri Lanka has been battered by the war, it is not without resources. Colombo has a $2.6 billion International Monetary Fund loan. It has also received $225 million for the camps, and it has appealed for "much, much more." If it wants that extra help, it will have to speed up resettlement. Canada, which is giving $22.5 million in aid this year, will not willingly subsidize detention centres.

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