Charles Haviland, courtesy of the BBC,
A crucial project to reunite family members separated in the last phase ofSri Lanka’s civil war is being expanded, the United Nations Children’s Fund, Unicef, says. The programme, run in co-operation with the government, began in late 2009 months after the end of the war. Although progress has been slow, it has succeeded in reuniting a number of children with their families.
Hundreds are still missing and many adults are also unaccounted for. UNICEF’s staff, trained in family tracing skills, have been working in two districts of northern Sri Lanka trying to locate missing children. In partnership with a local government tracing programme, they are now expanding their work to cover the whole of the Northern Province and part of the east, which was also in the war zone. After the violence and chaos of the final two to three years of conflict, many adults and children remain unaccounted for. Some may not have survived but others have done, and this Family Tracing Unit is doing its best to find them.
UNICEF figures show that progress is slow. At least 582 children remain missing – and that is only those for whom tracing requests have been made. On the other hand, the unit has traced 45 missing children and reunited them with their families; another 57 cases are being verified. UNICEF says that according to reports, about two-thirds of the children who have disappeared were recruited by the Tamil Tigers; but 30%were reportedly last seen in government-controlled areas.
The UNICEF Sri Lanka Representative, Reza Hossaini, told the BBC that resolving cases of missing children was an important part of the reconciliation process. At the same time, nearly 2,000 cases of adult disappearance have been reported to the tracing unit and their status remains unclear. Hundreds of distressed people have testified to a government-run war commission about their missing relatives.