UNHCR offers a fresh start in Sri Lanka's Vavuniya district for 130 families
THATTANKULAM, Sri Lanka, September 13 (UNHCR) - While tens of thousands of people have been displaced by renewed fighting in parts of Sri Lanka, a group of more than 130 families has finally found a permanent home after a decade of living in welfare centres.
Under a US$400,000 project funded by UNHCR, the displaced families - gathering almost 600 people - have been moved to Thattankulam village from two welfare centres in the town of Vavuniya, some 19 kilometres away. The area is far removed from the fighting around the eastern port of Trincomalee and in the northern Jaffna peninsula.
They originally fled in 1996 from their home districts of Jaffna, Killinochchi and Mullaitivu, which are again wracked by fighting between the Sri Lankan armed forces and rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam after the de facto collapse of a 2002 ceasefire. Neither side has formally withdrawn from the truce.
In line with UNHCR's objective of providing durable solutions for internally displaced persons, each family was given half an acre of land and the materials and funds to build a house with separate latrine on the 82-acre site, which was donated by the government.
Wells have been dug and a system of water pipes installed on the site, while UNHCR has also built a community hall. As part of construction work, which began eight months ago, more than five kilometres of road was built.
The especially vulnerable were not forgotten - four twin houses and three common kitchens were put up for 12 elderly persons with no family to care for them. The site is also close to schools, hospitals and government offices in the towns of Chettikulam and Puwarasakulam.
At a colourful opening ceremony on August 31, UNHCR's top official in Sri Lanka thanked local government officials for helping to find the site. Amin Awad also urged the community to continue to develop together: "I think the most important things are family and hope for the future and the next generation. It's the beginning of a new life," he said.
Meanwhile, the Scandinavian development agency, FORUT, is providing the families at Thattankulam with livelihood assistance.
By Sulakshani Perera in Thattankulam, Sri Lanka