IOM Myths Busted
- Myth number 5: The IOM rehabilitates ex-LTTE combatants
False. The IOM does have expertise in Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration programs. However, the manner in which it treated suspected LTTE cadres after the civil war in Sri Lanka cannot be called ‘rehabilitation’. This is an extremely contentious period so I will focus here on the British Government’s involvement in funding the IOM’s so called reintegration package.
As the civil war drew to a bloody conclusion in 2009, Tamils fled the conflict zone in their hundreds of thousands. There was a humanitarian emergency and the Government effectively ‘interned’ people in IDP camps, where international NGO’s delivered aid programs. The camps were militarised, and some witnesses have referred to them as ‘concentration camps’. What is clear is that the Sri Lankan regime set out to separate civilians from people they suspected to be LTTE combatants (who had surrendered). Suspected LTTE combatants were then transferred to separate ‘satellite’ camps, where the Army subjected them to more brutal treatment than people in the other IDP camps. Mass disappearances, sexual abuse, torture and forced labour were reported. Without looking at the detail of these abuses, at the very least they contravened the Geneva Convention on the treatment of Prisoners of War (POW). However, the Sri Lankan Government, perhaps learning from the Bush Administration or British rule in Northern Ireland, justified their actions by branding people in these satellite camps to be ‘terrorists’, not POW’s. Most NGO’s had little or no access to these camps. However, the IOM seems to have been uniquely complicit in building and administering these camps.
Academic researcher Julian Vigo interviewed several aid workers who witnessed what happened:
>> Susan, an IOM Program Manager, whose job it was to work with managing suspected Tamil Tigers to report the situation of the IDP (Internally Displaced Persons) camps in Sri Lanka relates her knowledge of the IDP and Surendee Camps:
“The government put civilians in IDP camps and suspected Tigers in separate camps, men of all ages and some women. Eleven thousand people were put in these camps called Surrendee Camps as the government wanted these possible Tigers to renounce their allegiances. The government then set up programs to brainwash them and the camps were closed, completely militarised…Their proposal was to keep these people in the camps for an indefinite period of time. When I was there the debate was under what conditions are you keeping these people detained.” “There was a big schism between the UN agencies and IOM. IOM was working with the government to construct rehabilitation camps, to put programs in these camps. The donors were worried because the ICRC (International Committee of the Red Cross) didn’t have access to these camps. So funding wasn’t forthcoming and IOM had broken from the position of the UN as it was more supportive of the government’s position and of the integration of IDPs. While there I was trying to get IOM to tow the line and to be part of the UN system—that as long as the legal status of these people inside these Surrendee Camps was not conclusive, that the UN was not going to get involved”.
>> A former UNICEF Protection Officer discusses the manner in which:
“In the Vavuniya field protection cluster, we constructed arguments around articles in applicable international conventions. For example the presumption of innocence: people in camps were supposed to be innocent until the government would find them guilty, but in fact the burden of proof was the opposite. We were stretching our minds to find conventions and articles we could use. We also went to other clusters to let them understand that they were buying into practices that would violate human rights. It worked on the field level but decisions were made in Colombo. Then suddenly, we in the field learned that IOM were building shelters in the newly identified Menik Farm 5, when we were still building Menik Farm 3 and 4 and already finding this process controversial”.
The IOM/GoSL camps were funded by UK DfID
The UK Department for International Development (DfID) donated £2.16 million to the IOM between September 2008 and May 2010, amounting to 17% of their total “humanitarian assistance” to Sri Lanka.
DfID’s accounts partially corroborate the above statements of Vigo’s whistle-blowers:
- DfID were funding IOM to build medical facilities in IDP camps in Vavuniya – was this in Menik Farm 5?
- IOM had access to ‘closed’ camps (but did not speak out about human rights abuses)
- IOM registered and issued IDPs with ID cards (but did not notice enforced disappearances?)
Here are the itemised donations made from UK DfID to IOM in this period:
- £0.5 million: This grant enabled IOM to build, equip and supply 10 temporary health clinics in the IDP camps in Vavuniya. The clinics are staffed by doctors and nurses from the Ministry of Health, who diagnose and treat injuries and illnesses and refer serious cases to the referral hospital.
- £0.25 million: This grant will enable IOM to transport IDPs from the existing ‘closed’ camps back to their areas of origin in a safe and dignified way.
- £1.0 million: This multi sector grant supports the safe and dignified transportation of a further 15,000 people; emergency shelter for 350 households; safe water, sanitation and hygiene promotion to 350 households; livelihoods support for 400 households; primary health care services for 40,000 returnees; and will ensure completion of the provision of ID cards for all returnees.
- £0.335 million: This grant enables IOM to support the Office for Central Statistics in the registration and provision of ID cards to the IDPs. This is a fundamental requirement ahead of returns of the IDPs from the camps to their homes.
- £0.075 million: This is an emergency “bridging” grant to keep IOM’s transport service on the road before other longer term donor funds become available. This provides safe, dignified transport for returning IDPs going to transit centres in their home areas.
To discover exactly what abuses the IOM participated in during this period will recover more staff leaking information, or victims coming forward.
IOM now revoking DfID-funded ID cards to prevent asylum claims?
The ID cards issued by the IOM (and paid for in large part by the British Government) have recently become an open controversy. On 12th September 2012, Tamil Net alleged that “a section of the officials of the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), working with the Sri Lankan State, have been harassing former LTTE members to return the identity cards the organisation had earlier provided to them certifying their release. The IOM, which undertook ‘pre-release profiling’ of more than 10,000 ex-Tiger members, had received foreign aid from Japan, Norway, USA, The Netherlands and the UK for the programme named ‘Information, Counselling, and Referral Services’ (ICRS). After completing the project, the inter-governmental organisation, with its global agenda of restricting ‘illegal immigration’, has now sought to prevent the possibility of ex-Tiger members using the identity card to document their background when they seek political asylum outside the island”.
The timing of this development is particularly sinister given a new ruling made by a British Court before another deportation charter flight went to Sri Lanka on 19th September 2012. Tamils in the UK will now only be granted asylum if they can prove a “real or perceived association with the LTTE”.
IOM’s Danziger lied about resettlement of IDPs
Frustration with the IOM boiled over into open hostility last month, as Tamil activists denounced another DfID funded IOM program.
On Tuesday 25th September IOM Sri Lanka Chief, Richard Danziger, issued a press release claiming that the “IOM yesterday helped the last 251 families in the Menik Farm camp displacement camp near Vavuniya in northern Sri Lanka to voluntarily return to their homes in Mullaitivu district…These families wanted to go home and IOM, in partnership with the UN and the humanitarian community, has helped them to do so in safety and dignity. Their home area has now been demined and is suitable for habitation”.
Suspicions should be aroused automatically, because Danziger had used IOM’s favourite phrase; “voluntarily return”. It turns out that Danziger’s claim is demonstrably false. On 21 September, a signed memo was issued “from the Keppapulavu people to the International Community”. These last inhabitants of the Cheddiku’lam IDP camp at Menik Farm defiantly stated that “We have steadfastly refused to resettle anywhere but in our native villages…we understand that a huge military base has been built in our village and that the GoSL has no intention of resettling us in Keppapilavu”
On Sunday 23rd September, they were forcibly evicted by the Sri Lankan Army. They had no homes to return to, because their village is occupied by the Army. Instead, they were simply dumped some distance away from the camp, on a “plot of land cleared after burning jungle at Chooripuram. The people belonging to more than 110 families languish without potable water or any basic facilities”. No IOM officials were present to observe the “resettlement” process.
Dumped at Chooripuram, a site described by Danziger as “suitable for habitation”
Analysts described how Tamil people are affected by ‘resettlement’ which was “on one hand engineering economic subservience of them for generations to come and was on the other hand facilitating militarisation, Sinhala colonisation, demographic changes and on the whole, a structural genocide.”
Political activists in Vanni also commented to Tamil Net about how deadly the IOM’s deceit is for the Tamil people: “The country of Eezham Tamils has become a fertile ground for a number of international forces to test all their state-of-the-art techniques in conducting genocide and at the same time making it not an issue to the world. There is no international mechanism to indict responsible international organizations like the IOM that tell lies”.
There is a clear task for citizens in the IOM’s donor countries to hold the organisation to account over their “resettlement” program in Sri Lanka.
DfID funded projects in Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka Conflict Oct 2008 – 2009, online interactive breakdown
OCHA briefing on IDP camps with some info on NGO access, contains map
Sri Lanka 2009 Humanitarian and Early Recovery Programme, online interactive breakdown