Aid agencies step in as Sri Lankans look to rebuilding lives

|PIC1|The Sri Lankan government may have declared victory over Tamil Tigers rebels, but Christian Aid says temporary camps are struggling to cope with the influx of refugees brought on by the intense fighting of recent months.

The Sri Lankan government declared an end to the 25-year-long civil war on Monday, although the UK Foreign Office is still advising against all travel to the north and east of the country amid fears of intermittent violence and terrorist attacks.

“Now that the Sri Lankan government has won the war, they must ensure that they win the peace,” said Robin Greenwood, director of Christian Aid’s Asia division.

The conflict has forced thousands of people to seek safety in government camps, with tens of thousands more expected to arrive in the coming days. The UN estimates that some 7,000 civilians were killed and 16,700 wounded in intense fighting over the last five months alone, with around 250,000 in need of aid.

“The priority now is to help those who have had to flee their homes to rebuild their lives … But these camps are already severely over-crowded and unable to meet the basic food and shelter needs of those who are arriving,” said Mr Greenwood.

He added that many of the children in the camps were in need of counselling.

“Many children have witnessed terrible scenes as they escaped with their parents to safety. Some saw their parents killed or were separated from them during the journey. These children will need intensive counselling in the months to come,” he said.

The Christian Aid programme officer for Jaffna said people were arriving to the camps from the no-fire zone in a severely malnourished state as many had been unable to farm or fish for months.

Christian Aid said it would offer counselling in the coming months if they received permission from the government to enter the camps.

“It is very important that the government devises a medium term strategy to permanently resettle people who have been displaced, or to guarantee their safety if they return to their place of origin. Otherwise the cycle of violence may begin again in the near future”, said Mr Greenwood.

World Vision is also planning long-term assistance to help Sri Lankans on the road to recovery, with food, shelter, education and psychosocial programmes for children.

The Christian aid agency estimates that some 80,000 of the 250,000 people in the camps are children.

“The conventional war may be over but the real challenge now is to foster an environment where fractured and displaced Tamil communities can heal and have a real chance at creating a future for themselves and their children," said aid agency director Suresh Bartlett, of World Vision in Sri Lanka.

He urged people not to let the recession stop them from giving financially to aid agencies.

“It is important that donor nations look beyond the financial crisis and the politics of giving or not giving to Sri Lanka and think instead of the tens of thousands of children who will miss out if we don’t help rebuild their families’ lives and meet the specific needs of children themselves," stressed Bartlett.

"We have already lost the futures of two generations of children to nearly three decades of war. This must not be allowed to continue."