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UNHCR appeals for $10 million to help Sri Lanka's returnees

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UNHCR appeals for $10 million to help Sri Lanka's returnees

11 October 2002

11 October 2002

GENEVA - The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees today appealed for$10 million to help Sri Lankans return to their homes as peace takes hold in the island state following two decades of bloody civil war that ended earlier this year following a Norwegian government-brokered ceasefire.

The UN refugee agency's (UNHCR's) appeal ($2 million for 2002 and $8 million for 2003) follows a round of peace negotiations held in Thailand in September between the Sri Lankan government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.

More than 180,000 displaced Sri Lankans have returned home so far this year, as well as some 1,000 refugees who spontaneously returned from India following February's cease-fire agreement.

"Sri Lankans are voting with their feet for peace and stability. Our aid programmes will consolidate the gains made at the negotiating table by helping people to rebuild their communities and their lives," said High Commissioner Ruud Lubbers. "The international community must meet the needs of the thousands of Sri Lankans already streaming home and the many more people who look ready to follow."

UNHCR has been working in Sri Lanka for more than 15 years. The refugee agency provides protection and assistance for 800,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) at the request of the government and under a mandate from the UN Secretary-General.

The UN refugee agency expanded its field presence in June 2002 as peace and stability took hold across the island and currently has three field offices in Jaffna, Vavuniya and Colombo, along with five satellite offices in Batticaloa, Trincomalee, Mannar, Mallavi and Kilinochchi.

In July, the government and UN agencies working in the country agreed that UNHCR would be the lead UN agency providing protection, emergency shelter and assistance items to returnees.

The UN refugee agency's appeal, covering the period from October 2002 through December 2003, will fund assistance items for up to 60,000 families, including plastic tarpaulins, kitchen and cooking sets, sleeping mats, towels, soap, hygienic items and jerry cans.

UNHCR will also finance projects to fill gaps in other sectors, including minor infrastructure repairs in returnee areas and the rehabilitation of access roads, water and sanitation, health services as well as various income generating activities.

"Returnee and reintegration assistance alone won't help Sri Lanka erase the damage wrought by years of conflict and economic stagnation," said Lubbers. "UNHCR is working closely with the World Bank, UNDP, the Asian Development Bank and other partners to ensure that agencies provide adequate rehabilitation and reconstruction assistance so that Sri Lankans can build upon their new-found peace."

More than half the returnees this year have gone back to the Jaffna Peninsula, a region that was decimated during the long war. Water, sanitation, shelter and other infrastructure are in need of immediate rehabilitation in order to ensure the successful reintegration of the 95,000 recent returnees and those soon to follow.

The 20 years of fighting caused massive internal displacement on the island. There are more than 64,000 Sri Lanka refugees in camps in India's southern Tamil Nadu Province.