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UNHCR sends emergency team as first group of civilians returns to Sri Lanka’s north

[AlertNet, Friday, 1 May 2009 12:44 No Comment]

A second team of UNHCR emergency experts is scheduled to arrive today in Sri Lanka. The team of four includes specialists on community services, protection and other essential field functions. They follow the earlier deployment of five UNHCR experts to Sri Lanka’s north in February and March.

About 171,000 internally displaced people (IDPs) have fled the conflict zone, mostly during the last 10 days. They are accommodated in 38 sites in four districts of the north and east of the country. UNHCR and its partners have mounted a massive humanitarian operation in support of the Government to assist these displaced people.

 

While thousands of displaced people continue to arrive to Vavuniya, Jaffna and Trincomalee, others are returning to their homes in the first Government organised return operation in northern Sri Lanka for years. The area to where they are returning, Musali in Mannar district, was for a long time the frontline in the fighting between Government forces and LTTE rebels.

 

Some 400 people returned yesterday to Saveriyarpuram village in Musali. They were displaced about two years ago and have since lived in camps and with host families in Mannar district. A total of some 3,000 IDPs have registered to return to 15 villages in Musali over the coming weeks.

 

UNHCR welcomes these returns as a positive development. While the number of those returning to their homes is still small it is an important starting point. We hope that returns to other areas in northern Sri Lanka will also be possible soon.

 

Over the past weeks, UNHCR field monitoring teams spoke with the IDPs about their concerns regarding return. UNHCR verified that mine clearance in Saveriyarpuram village had been completed. IDPs said that they are keen to return, but were worried about their houses and how to make a living once back home.

 

UNHCR provided each family at the transit site with a return package which includes a tarpaulin kit to construct a tent-shape emergency return shelter for the days after the return, and jungle clearing tools. Over the coming days UNHCR will distribute household items inside the return area, including mosquito nets, mats, water containers and hurricane lamps. As a major intervention to help returnees with reintegration, UNHCR will repair up to 320 houses in Musali.

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