New homes for displaced Sri Lankans in north
VAVUNIYA, Sri Lanka, October 2 (UNHCR) - More than 300 displaced families have been given new homes in northern Sri Lanka after spending a decade in overcrowded welfare centres for internally displaced people (IDPs).
A total of 365 families received housing certificates and keys to their new homes at a handover ceremony in Vavuniya district last week. This includes 100 IDP families at the Kankankulam relocation site, 130 at the Kalmadu site and 135 at the Manipuram site.
The government of Sri Lanka allocated half an acre of land per family in the first two relocation sites, while UNHCR funded the construction of the houses with donor support. The 135 houses in Manipuram were completed by the UN Development Programme (UNDP) under an Australian-supported scheme.
"We are very happy living here. We feel safer than in Pavatkulam IDP village, where we lived for about 10 years," said an internally displaced person who originates in Mullativu division, one of the main hotspots in Sri Lanka's conflict in the north. His family had been forced to leave their village in 1999 for Mannar district in the north-west, but they were later forced to flee again to Vavuniya.
"During our displacement, we lost our house and our livestock. We had nothing until we were allocated land and a new house in Kankankulam village," he said, looking at his new property with pride and delight.
Another new homeowner, Kirubagaran, received his keys last week and is looking forward to moving into his house at Kalmadu. He, along with his parents and many others, had fled the clashes between the Sri Lankan armed forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in northern Vavuniya. They have been living for the last 10 years at the Poonthoddam welfare centre, one of the largest in the country.
"We do not have enough space or privacy there," said Kirubagaran about the overcrowded welfare centre. Now 23, he has started his own family and wants to continue his life in this area that he and his wife have grown to know well.
There are many more displaced Sri Lankans who have been living in Vavuniya's welfare centres and IDP villages for more than a decade. For most, the conflict in northern Sri Lanka means that returning home is still not an option due to security issues, concern for physical safety and the lack of access to livelihoods.
Under these circumstances, relocation is the most appropriate durable solution. Since 2006, UNHCR, in collaboration with local authorities and other humanitarian agencies, has been building entire villages in Vavuniya district and helping hundreds of people to re-establish their lives.
UNHCR will continue to advocate with the government to identify suitable land where long-term IDPs living in welfare centres in Vavuniya and elsewhere can be relocated, providing them with an opportunity to start a better life in their own home.
The refugee agency's office in Vavuniya is working with local authorities and other humanitarian agencies to open a new relocation site in Cheddikulam division next year to host another 300 IDP families who cannot return to their areas of origin.
Meanwhile, displacement continues amid fighting further north, with some 15,000 people fleeing their homes in the Mannar district and Poonegaryn in neighbouring Kilinochchi district.
By Beatriz Gonzalez in Colombo, Sri Lanka