IOM clarifies role in reintegrating Tigers into society

Shamindra Ferdinando, courtesy of the Island, 1 December 2011

 A former Tiger with an IOM official

A project, spearheaded by the International Organization for Migration (IOM), to rehabilitate those who had fought for the LTTE is nearing completion, with Japan, too, throwing its weight behind the programme. The IOM launched the project in the East in early 2009 and subsequently expanded it to the Northern Province, the home for the majority of ex-LTTE combatants and support personnel. IOM Chief of Mission Richard Danziger said that the Northern project got underway in 2010 following the conclusion of the conflict. [The LTTE was crushed on the banks of the Nanthikadal lagoon on May 19, 2009].

In a brief interview with The Island, Danziger said that Japan had recently provided 1.5 mn USD (more than Rs. 150 mn) for the ongoing project aimed at reintegrating former LTTE personnel to the civil society and reconciliation efforts.  Danziger said that there hadn’t been any previous contributions by Japan towards this particular project, which received initial backing from the Netherlands, US, UK and Norway.

Japanese Ambassador Nobuhito Hobo and Danziger finalized an agreement in this regard recently. “We are confident that this aid will be effectively utilized to implement worthwhile initiatives to promote social and economic reintegration,” said Ambassador Hobo.

“The Government of Japan’s global leadership in advocating for and contributing to human security is admirable. I am delighted that it has placed its confidence in IOM to support the reintegration of former LTTE cadres and their receiving communities,” said Danziger.

Close on the heels of Japanese support, Norway, finalized an agreement with the IOM to provide funds amounting to Rs. 57 mn (NOK 3 mn) for the same project.

The Norwegian embassy quoted Norwegian Ambassador Hilde Haraldstad as having emphasized the importance of social and economic reintegration of ex-cadres of LTTE. Ms. Haraldstad remarked “It is important to assist them to return home and to start a new life. The IOM programme is geared to meet their urgent needs and will provide the ex-cadres with a foundation from which they can start a livelihood and rebuild their lives.”

The UK provided £650,000 (approximately $1 mn) for the IOM project.

Of the five sponsors of this project, three, namely US, Norway and Japan are members of the four-nation Sri Lankan peace Co-Chairs. The remaining peace Co-Chair is not involved in the project. A spokesperson for the EU told The Island that they hadn’t backed this project, though being involved in a range of other post-war projects here.

Asked whether the IOM had received adequate funds to sustain the project, Danziger said that funding requirements were high as they wanted to provide socio-economic assistance to all the released former LTTE cadres in all Northern districts. “We continue to seek funding, though the programme strategy can be adapted to take into account any shortfall.”

Commenting on the IOM’s relationship with the government in this regard, the IOM leader said that as far as this particular project was concerned, it primarily worked with the Commissioner General of Rehabilitation, though the agency co-operated with a variety of state institutions, ministries and NGO partners.

The IOM acknowledged that the government had given the agency direct access to ex-LTTE combatants held in several facilities. Asked to elaborate the assistance given to one-time members of the proscribed organization, Danziger said that during the pre-release profiling, each beneficiary was informed about IOM’s programme and provided with IOM’s contacts in each district. Danziger said: “After the release, those wanting assistance come to IOM offices, where they are supported with a range of activities such as counseling sessions, referral to other agencies or projects in the same area, training, education and individual livelihood assistance. As of mid Nov. 2011, 10,237 had been profiled, 2,167 clients provided with livelihood assistance and 12,134 counseling sessions organized.”

Expressing satisfaction with regard to the progress so far, the Colombo-based IOM chief estimated the number of ex-combatants awaiting IOM support at 2,298. Danziger expressed confidence that they could be provided the required assistance over the next couple of months. The IOM staff engaged in the project comprised about 20, including one expatriate, with several others playing support roles.

Danziger said that the IOM had ongoing similar projects in Colombia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Democratic Republic of Congo, Kyrgyzstan, Serbia, Somalia, Southern Sudan and Uganda. The IOM has so far provided direct assistance to some 3,000 ex-LTTE personnel.

A spokesperson for the Netherlands embassy told The Island yesterday they had provided one million Euros over a period of two years in support of the IOM initiative, though fresh funding was unlikely due to IOM now having several other sponsors.

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