UNHCR airlifts almost 3,000 tents to Colombo for displaced Sri Lankans

News Stories, 27 April 2009

© UNHCR/D.Seneviratne
The UNHCR tents being unloaded at Colombo's international airport earlier today.

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka, April 26 (UNHCR) A UNHCR emergency airlift carrying humanitarian aid for tens of thousands of people displaced by fighting in north-eastern Sri Lanka began Monday morning with the arrival in Colombo of a plane carrying 2,850 family-size tents from the refugee agency's stockpiles in Dubai.

The Boeing-747 cargo plane, the first of two scheduled flights to deliver more than 200 tonnes of UNHCR tents landed in Colombo at 10:45 a.m. local time. "The family tents will be used in the north of the country to help shelter thousands of people uprooted in recent fighting between government forces and Tamil rebels," a UNHCR press statement said.

In addition to the airlift, UNHCR is ramping up its already sizeable humanitarian operations in Sri Lanka by dispatching a second emergency team to augment the agency's 120 existing staff in seven offices around the island nation.

High Commissioner António Guterres also approved the immediate release of an extra US$2 million for UNHCR's Sri Lanka operations helping internally displaced people. The additional funds will provide shelter, protection and other aid for civilians fleeing the conflict zone in the north.

According to the government, more than 150,000 displaced people are staying in some 38 displacement sites around the towns of Vavuniya, Jaffna and Trincomalee. Large numbers are believed to be on the move.

Overcrowding at the camps is becoming a major worry. In one location, Menik Farm, eight to 10 people are sharing shelters normally designed for four or five. Many IDPs, or internally displaced people, in the camps have no shelter from the sweltering heat.

The government has agreed to provide public buildings and more land to accommodate new arrivals in Mannar and Trincomalee, Jaffna and Vavuniya. In Trincomalee, according to the government, an area of approximately 100 acres has been identified for a site to accommodate up to 20,000 people. As soon as the site is ready, UNHCR will assist with emergency shelter support and the distribution of non-food items.

Aid workers also cite growing problems of malnourishment, lack of transport to move the sick to hospitals, and a shortage of medical personnel. Some of the displaced have not eaten for days.

UNHCR, which has worked in Sri Lanka since 1987, is spearheading efforts to provide shelter to people displaced by the conflict. It is also coordinating distribution of non-food items and monitoring security of the displaced.

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Shelter

One of the first things that people need after being forced to flee their homes, whether they be refugees or internally displaced, is some kind of a roof over their head.

Emergency Response

UNHCR is committed to increasing its ability to respond to complex emergency situations.

Shelter for the Displaced in Yemen

The port city of Aden in southern Yemen has long been a destination for refugees, asylum-seekers and economic migrants after making the dangerous sea crossing from the Horn of Africa. Since May 2011, Aden also has been providing shelter to tens of thousands of Yemenis fleeing fighting between government forces and armed groups in neighbouring Abyan governorate.

Most of the 157,000 internally displaced people (IDPs) from Abyan have found shelter with friends and relatives, but some 20,000 have been staying in dozens of public schools and eight vacant public buildings. Conditions are crowded with several families living together in a single classroom.

Many IDPs expected their displacement would not be for long. They wish to return home, but cannot do so due to the fighting. Moreover, some are fearful of reprisals if they return to areas where many homes were destroyed or severely damaged in bombings.

UNHCR has provided emergency assistance, including blankets, plastic sheeting and wood stoves, to almost 70,000 IDPs from Abyan. Earlier this year, UNHCR rehabilitated two buildings, providing shelter for 2,000 people and allowing 3,000 children, IDPs and locals, to resume schooling in proper classrooms. UNHCR is advocating with the authorities for the conversion of additional public buildings into transitional shelters for the thousands of IDPs still living in schools.

Photographer Pepe Rubio Larrauri travelled to Aden in March 2012 to document the day-to-day lives of the displaced.

Shelter for the Displaced in Yemen

Somalia Airlift: UNHCR flies aid to Mogadishu for first time in 5 years.

For the first time in five years, UNHCR has been able to airlift vital humanitarian aid to the conflict-ravaged Somalia capital of Mogadishu. Tens of thousands of Somalis, fleeing drought and famine, have descended on the city in recent weeks searching for food, water, medicine and other assistance.

Three UNHCR-chartered aircraft have brought around 100 tonnes of aid to Mogadishu since August 8. The aircraft carried relief items from the agency's emergency stockpile in Dubai. The latest shipment includes high energy protein biscuits, plastic sheeting for shelter, sleeping mats, blankets, jerry cans for water and kitchen utensils.

The UN refugee agency usually delivers relief items to Mogadishu by sea and land for security reasons, but - due to the unprecedented rise in the number of uprooted civilians - UNHCR decided to airlift supplies in order to save time. There are now around half-a-million internally displaced people in Mogadishu.

Somalia Airlift: UNHCR flies aid to Mogadishu for first time in 5 years.

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

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