Sri Lanka's war refugees face continuing hardships

By staff writers
June 19, 2009

Tearfund and other relief and development agencies are warning that the condition of Sri Lankans living in refugee camps will remain a major challenge for months to come.

The assessment comes in the aftermath of a bloody war in which the United Nations estimates that around 300,000 people have been displaced.

Tearfund, which draws support especially from the evangelical Christian constituency, says it has been able to send £400,000 to a number of development partners in Sri Lanka.

These include World Concern and Habitat for Humanity.

Local NGOs are helping the Tamil people in the former war zones, the vast majority of whom are now being held in camps run and controlled by the government.

The Sri Lankan army declared victory on 18 May 2009 following a 26-year conflict with insurgents demanding a Tamil homeland and an end to discrimination and prejudice on behalf of the Sinhala majority in the country.

The aid and development funds from Tearfund and others are helping indigenous relief organisations in their distribution of food, water, clothing, hygiene packs, shelters, kitchens, cookers and eco-friendly toilets.

Overcrowding (some people are sharing a tent with 10 others), malnutrition, ill health, trauma and shortages of water and food are among the serious problems which need addressing.

Tony Senewiratne, the national director of Habitat for Humanity Sri Lanka. says: "I believe that the people in the camps are having a really tough time despite all that people are doing to alleviate the situation. This is not going to change in the short term."

Meanwhile, Selina Prem, country manager for World Concern, which is working on the east coast, said that while food shortages had eased over the last few weeks, a new problem had arisen as wells dry up in the hot summer season.

Prem added that for some 8,000 people in north Trincomalee, there is little water available locally and thousands of litres are needed daily.

She declared: "People seem generally to have accepted the fact they have to stay in the camps but their desire is to go home or to be able to travel to other camps to meet up with family members.

The aid administrator continued: "People are glad the fighting is over but their concern for the future is not the political settlement but when they can go home, how to start again – all the personal worries of family, home and livelihood."

Tearfund's Clare Crawford declared: "Our partners in Sri Lanka are the most amazing examples of teams of people, called by God, ready to give everything in the service of the wounded, the poor, the widow, the child. They are helping thousands of people who have gone through immense suffering and tragedies."

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