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UNHCR distributes aid to disaster victims in Sri Lanka

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UNHCR distributes aid to disaster victims in Sri Lanka

27 December 2004 Also available in:

27 December 2004

UNHCR in Sri Lanka is opening up its local relief stockpiles to deliver immediate emergency assistance to victims of Sunday's devastating tsunami, which left thousands of dead, injured and displaced on the island state.

"The magnitude of this disaster is so enormous and shocking that we will do everything we can to join the international community in bringing help as rapidly as possible to the victims of these gigantic waves. Our supplies are usually for displaced people, but this is an emergency and the local population needs help right now," said U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Ruud Lubbers.

UNHCR will provide plastic sheeting, (18,000), plastic mats (17,000), rope, and non-food relief packages for 2,000 families. Those packages include cooking sets, plastic jerry cans, mosquito nets and clothing. Stichting Vluchteling, a Dutch non-governmental organisation that works closely with UNHCR on refugee programmes, today told the agency that it would cover at least US$200,000 of the the approximate US$280,000 cost of the relief items through its special fund-raising efforts for the disaster victims.

At an emergency meeting with the government and other United Nations agencies Monday morning in Colombo, it was decided that UNHCR would concentrate on delivering relief items to the former conflict-affected area in the east of the country, where it has offices and access.

Overall, UNHCR has seven offices in Sri Lanka, where it has worked for nearly two decades helping displaced populations as well as returning refugees.

All UNHCR staff in Sri Lanka were reported safe and accounted for - after some anxious moments. A UNHCR associate programme officer was slightly injured when her house in Trincomalee, on the east coast, was swamped by the tidal wave. She was able to swim out of her house, which filled up with water and fish. She then evacuated the office and gathered staff in a local hotel, which was unaffected.

The full extent of the disaster in Sri Lanka is still not known as communications networks within the country have collapsed. There is little information from remote areas where access is difficult. UNHCR will provide whatever immediate humanitarian support it can until international relief items arrive in the country. It will also assist the United Nations country team in strengthening the Sri Lankan government's response to the disaster and actively support emergency coordination at the district level.

As of Monday morning, UNHCR had received only one report of refugees or staff elsewhere in the region being directly affected by the earthquake. In Tamil Nadu in southern India, a group of 1,000 refugees from Sri Lanka at Keelputhupattu camp were affected by the tsunami but there was no loss of life. The refugees moved themselves to a Christian missionary hostel in Pondicherry. UNHCR is planning an assessment mission from Chennai as soon as possible to assess the situation.

Also, the agency is still awaiting word on the fate of some 80 refugees and asylum seekers on India's remote Andaman Islands.