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Italian concert raises euros 1m for Sri Lanka's conflict and tsunami victims

News Stories, 22 March 2005

© UNHCR/V.Di Cillo
Claudio Baglioni accompanying a children's choir at the "Music for Asia" concert in Milan.

MILAN, Italy, March 22 (UNHCR) A star-studded concert featuring Italian artistes like Andrea Bocelli, Claudio Baglioni and Zucchero has raised €1 million for the UN refugee agency's work for victims of the conflict and tsunami in Sri Lanka.

On Monday night, "Music for Asia: Not to Forget" drew a galaxy of Italian stars together for the first time to raise funds for a humanitarian crisis. Some 10,000 people turned up at the FilaForum of Assago in Milan to support the event, which was organised by Media Friend.

Singer Antonella Ruggiero said, "The tsunami was a dramatic event that hit the sensitivities of everyone, including artistes. That's why we felt we had to help not only as individuals, but also to get together and help in a bigger way."

Among the highlights of the three-hour concert were a piano and guitar duet by Bocelli and Mario Rejes, and a virtual duet by Zucchero and the late Miles Davis. The artists, who also included Alexia, Biagio Antonacci, Gigi D'Alessio, DJ Francesco, Negrita and Velvet, were accompanied by an orchestra conducted by maestros Fio Zanotti, Lucio Fabbri and Peppe Vessicchio.

A video reportage shot in northern Sri Lanka was screened during the concert, giving the audience a glimpse of the situation on the ground the destruction and how people doubly hit by the conflict and the December 26 tsunami are trying to rebuild their lives.

"We met families who had just returned home after years of displacement, only to see their houses washed away by the waves. It was so sad," said UNHCR's Laura Boldrini, who just returned from a mission to Sri Lanka.

She added that the funds raised will help support the most vulnerable people hit by both the conflict and the tsunami, specifically on projects involving shelter, medical assistance, legal assistance and reconciliation in Jaffna, Trincomalee and Ampara districts.

By the end of the concert, €1 million had been raised through ticket sales and donations through credit cards, SMS and landlines. "It was quite revolutionary how the small donations through SMS and phones expanded the width of our donor base," said UNHCR's Lionello Boscardi.

"This first joint effort between UNHCR and Media Friends was very successful and we hope to continue such cooperation in the future," said Boldrini. Media Friends is part of Mediaset, the media group owned by Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

© UNHCR/V.Di Cillo
Anna Tatangelo and Gigi D'Alessio were part of the star-studded event.

The Sri Lankan Ambassador to Rome ended the evening by thanking the artistes and audience for supporting his compatriots.

The UN refugee agency has been in Sri Lanka since 1987, assisting people uprooted by the civil conflict and more recently, those displaced by the tsunami.

© UNHCR/V.Di Cillo
Andrea Bocelli (left) and Mario Rejes performing a duet for victims of the conflict and tsunami in Sri Lanka.
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Tsunami Aftermath in Sri Lanka

Shortly after the tsunami hit Sri Lanka, killing over 30,000 people and displacing nearly 800,000, UNHCR was asked to take a lead role in providing transitional shelter – bridging the gap between emergency tents and the construction of permanent homes. The refugee agency is not normally involved in natural disasters, but lent its support to the effort because of the scale of the devastation and because many of the tsunami-affected people were also displaced by the conflict.

Since the 26 December 2004 tsunami, UNHCR has helped in the coordination and construction of over 55,000 transitional shelters and has directly constructed, through its partners, 4,500 shelters in Jaffna in the north, and Ampara District in the east. These efforts are helping some 20,000 people rebuild their lives.

On 15 November, 2005, UNHCR completed its post-tsunami shelter role and formally handed over responsibility for the shelter sector to the Sri Lankan government. Now, UNHCR is returning its full focus to its pre-tsunami work of providing assistance to people internally displaced by the conflict, and refugees repatriating from India.

Tsunami Aftermath in Sri Lanka

Picking Up the Pieces in Sri Lanka

In an unprecedented response to a natural disaster, the U.N. refugee agency – whose mandate is to protect refugees fleeing violence and persecution – has kicked off a six-month, multi-million dollar emergency relief operation to aid tsunami victims in Sri Lanka, Indonesia and Somalia. UNHCR has worked in Sri Lanka for nearly 20 years and has the largest operational presence in the country with seven offices, 113 staff and a strong network of partnerships in place. The day of the tsunami, UNHCR opened up its warehouses in the island nation and began distributing existing stockpiles – including plastic sheeting, cooking sets and clothing for 100,000 people.

UNHCR estimates that some 889,000 people are now displaced in Sri Lanka, including many who were already displaced by the long-running conflict in the north. Prior to the tsunami, UNHCR assisted 390,000 people uprooted by the war. UNHCR is now expanding its logistical and warehouse capacity throughout the island to facilitate delivery of relief items to the needy populations, including in the war-affected area. The refugee agency is currently distributing relief items and funding mobile health clinics to assist the injured and sick.

Picking Up the Pieces in Sri Lanka

Drifting Towards Italy

Every year, Europe's favourite summer playground - the Mediterranean Sea - turns into a graveyard as hundreds of men, women and children drown in a desperate bid to reach European Union (EU) countries.

The Italian island of Lampedusa is just 290 kilometres off the coast of Libya. In 2006, some 18,000 people crossed this perilous stretch of sea - mostly on inflatable dinghies fitted with an outboard engine. Some were seeking employment, others wanted to reunite with family members and still others were fleeing persecution, conflict or indiscriminate violence and had no choice but to leave through irregular routes in their search for safety.

Of those who made it to Lampedusa, some 6,000 claimed asylum. And nearly half of these were recognized as refugees or granted some form of protection by the Italian authorities.

In August 2007, the authorities in Lampedusa opened a new reception centre to ensure that people arriving by boat or rescued at sea are received in a dignified way and are provided with adequate accommodation and medical facilities.

Drifting Towards Italy

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