Sri Lanka: UNHCR struggling to provide for tens of thousands of newly displaced

Briefing Notes, 18 May 2009

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Ron Redmond to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 18 May 2009, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

It is now estimated that 65,000 people have left the former fighting zone in north-east Sri Lanka, which brings the total who have fled the fighting in the last several months to 265,000.

This latest massive influx of people, who have endured extreme conditions, will put an even greater strain on the transit and IDP sites that are already buckling under the pressure of the existing IDP population.

UNHCR plans to put up an additional 10,000 emergency shelters to accommodate the tens of thousands who have left the combat zone and who are expected to arrive seeking shelter in coming days.

For the time being, our existing shelter and relief items are sufficient to respond to the IDPs immediate needs but stocks are running low and will need to replenish them soon.

We are reiterating our request to the government to allocate more land for the construction of emergency shelter, water and sanitation facilities, as well as to provide public buildings in Vavuniya, Jaffna, Mannar and Kilinochchi in order to accommodate arriving IDPs.

UNHCR is calling on the government to take immediate steps to improve conditions at the 42 existing sites hosting the IDPs and ensure adequate care and maintenance for the population of concern.

Our access to the Vavuniya sites has been greatly curtailed over the past few days and this affects our ability to monitor and distribute aid to the displaced. We hope this ends quickly.




UNHCR country pages

Internally Displaced People

The internally displaced seek safety in other parts of their country, where they need help.

UNHCR Tents Reaching Earthquake Survivors in China

The UN refugee agency has provided 11,000 urgently needed tents to China to help with emergency shelter for some of the 5 million people left homeless after the devastating earthquake that struck Sichuan province on May 12, 2008.

The tents, which were manufactured in China for UNHCR, have been transported to the quake zone. The first 2,000 tents were airlifted to the zone and arrived in Chengdu on May 25 and the remaining 9,000 arrived not long after. These tents can provide shelter for 55,000 people. They have been distributed in the cities of Aba, Deyang and Guangyuan, close to the epicentre of the quake.

Posted on 4 June 2008

UNHCR Tents Reaching Earthquake Survivors in China

Sri Lanka: IDPs and Returnees

During Sri Lanka's 20-year civil war more than 1 million people were uprooted from their homes or forced to flee, often repeatedly. Many found shelter in UNHCR-supported Open Relief Centers, in government welfare centers or with relatives and friends.

In February 2002, the Sri Lankan government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) signed a cease-fire accord and began a series of talks aimed at negotiating a lasting peace. By late 2003, more than 300,000 internally displaced persons had returned to their often destroyed towns and villages.

In the midst of these returns, UNHCR provided physical and legal protection to war affected civilians – along with financing a range of special projects to provide new temporary shelter, health and sanitation facilities, various community services, and quick and cheap income generation projects.

Sri Lanka: IDPs and Returnees

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

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