South Asia

Sri Lanka's Menik Farm refugee camp 'to close'

Menik Farm camp
The number of inhabitants at the camp has dwindled in recent months

One of the world's largest refugee camps - Menik Farm in northern Sri Lanka - is shortly to close, the Sri Lankan government has said.

It has announced that the 7,400 people remaining in the camp will be relocated in about two weeks' time.

The government says it will give them good facilities at a new site, including "semi-permanent houses".

But Tamil politicians say that they will have to go to areas which are little more than newly-cleared jungle.

They ask why they cannot go back to the villages that they originally came from.

The government says that is not possible because those areas are now special economic development areas, uncleared minefields or on land the military wants to keep.

Bloodiest fighting

The Menik Farm camp sprang up rapidly to accommodate around 300,000 Tamil civilians who had been caught up in the extreme violence of the final months of Sri Lanka's war in 2009.

The government said it was doing its best to help displaced people. But there has been strong international criticism of conditions in the camp and especially the fact that its inmates were not allowed into or out of it for the first six-and-a-half months of peacetime.

But the number of inhabitants has fallen sharply as people have been returning to their home areas with small grants to try to rebuild their lives.

The BBC's Charles Haviland in Colombo says that the only ones still in the camp come from the area where the final, and bloodiest, fighting took place.

They are not being allowed home for the foreseeable future.

The government has confirmed that they will be housed in a newly established village called Kombavil, some distance inland from their native area, in a cleared 600-acre patch of jungle. The move has upset environmentalists.

Menik Farm will then close and the authorities say the Ministry of Resettlement will be wound down as it is no longer needed.

Yet because large numbers will remain displaced, some of those desperate to go home have mounted protests.

The biggest Tamil party argues that there are "sinister reasons" why refugees from the final war zone cannot go home.

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