COLOMBO, Sri Lanka – Heavy rains have destroyed or damaged hundreds of shelters housing ethnic Tamils displaced during Sri Lanka’s civil war, the United Nations said Monday.
The weekend flooding has added to concern over the welfare of nearly 300,000 displaced people who have been living in tents and makeshift shelters since the May defeat by government forces of the Tamil Tigers, ending their 25-year armed campaign for an ethnic homeland. Rights groups claim the Tamils are detained in camps against their will.
Parts of the Manik Farm camp in the island’s northeast were inundated, and some 1,925 shelters may have been damaged or destroyed, said a statement from the U.N. office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, without specifying how many people in total used the shelters.
It also warned that nearly 100 toilets have been flooded and that the water there was “stagnant and contaminated.”
The government says the affected people have been moved to higher grounds within the camp, which is run by the government.
Nearly 1,000 families have been relocated, said Keerthi Ekanayake, senior official from the government’s agency for disaster management. He said the floods were receding and the situation was under control. The families were being provided with cooked foods, water and other facilities, he said.
Rights groups have urged the government to free the civilians – whose camps are guarded by soldiers and strung with barbed wire – claiming the detentions are illegal. Access to the camps is heavily restricted, although the U.N. is allowed entry and helps supply them.
The heavy rains came two months ahead of the monsoon season in the north of Sri Lanka. Aid groups and diplomats have expressed concerns about overcrowding and outbreaks of disease because of poor sanitation.
The government says it can’t release the civilians until it finishes screening them for potential rebel fighters. Authorities have so far resettled about 3,000 people, and officials say they hope to resettle most of the others soon.