Sri Lanka displacement update

Briefing Notes, 2 June 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 2 June 2009, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

With fighting now at an end in Sri Lanka's north, UNHCR is working with the government of Sri Lanka and other humanitarian agencies to provide urgently needed aid to hundreds of thousands who fled the former conflict zone in the last several months.

Some 300,000 internally displaced persons (IDP) are accommodated in the 40 emergency shelter sites spread across the districts of Vavuniya, Jaffna and Trincomalee. UNHCR and partners are carrying out emergency shelter work, regular non-food distributions and protection monitoring.

UNHCR and shelter agencies have erected some 8,800 emergency shelters and more than 14,000 tents so far and will continue to set up more as land clearance continues. This year alone, we have distributed some 66,000 bed sheets, 73,000 plastic mats, 31,000 kitchen sets, tens of thousands of hygiene kits and hundreds of thousands of men's and women's clothing and other items. UNHCR is transporting additional aid from Colombo to replenish stocks in the areas concerned.

We continue to work closely with the government to better respond to the emergency from central government level to the local government officials who are involved with direct assistance activities on the ground.

The priorities are to decongest and improve conditions in the sites, stabilize the population and prepare for return. UNHCR is also in close dialogue with the government to ensure that the IDPs in the camps have freedom of movement. The government has taken positive steps on this front by releasing categories of persons with special needs, including the elderly and pregnant women, to specialized institutions as well as reunifying families separated during flight. We are encouraging the government to complete screening as soon as possible and separate the ex-combatants, so that the civilian population can be allowed to move freely in and out of the camps.

UNHCR's ultimate objective is to support government efforts to restore normalcy in the lives of this population by ensuring that they can return home as soon as conditions are in place. This includes addressing security issues; de-mining and removal of unexploded ordnance; village profile assessments and reconstruction of damaged homes; infrastructure and livelihood development; and reviving of the civil administration in the affected districts and provinces.




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Internally Displaced People

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

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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

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

Sri Lanka: Home At LastPlay video

Sri Lanka: Home At Last

Grace Selvarani has lived in a refugee camp in India for the past two decades. Today, the Sri Lankan is delighted to be going back home by boat with more than 40 other refugees.
India/Sri Lanka: A Ferry Ride HomePlay video

India/Sri Lanka: A Ferry Ride Home

For the first time in many years, Sri Lankan refugees are returning home from India by ferry.
Sri Lanka: Time to ReturnPlay video

Sri Lanka: Time to Return

A year after the end of the long civil war in Sir Lanka, the government is slowly helping the internally displaced to return home.