The head of the United Nations refugee agency begins a three-day mission to war-ravaged Sri Lanka today where he plans to meet representatives of the more than 300,000 people displaced by the conflict between the Government and the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).
The visit will be the first by a head of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to the country, where it has been working with conflict-displaced people since 1987, the agency said, adding that High Commissioner António Guterres is also expected to meet Government officials as well as members of the LTTE.
“The purpose of his visit is to meet displaced people in the north and east of the country and hear first-hand their concerns and needs. He will also meet UNHCR staff to discuss their humanitarian work,” UNHCR spokesperson Jennifer Pagonis told reporters in Geneva.
“In Sri Lanka, our activities are centred on providing protection for an estimated 314,400 internally displaced people, some of whom have been out of their homes for more than 20 years.”
Since April this year, some 50,000 people have fled their homes because of renewed violence and are now living mainly in neighbouring communities in Trincomalee, Batticaloa, Puttalam and in the north of the country. UNHCR is monitoring the displacement and providing protection and humanitarian assistance to the newly displaced.
However, despite the deteriorating security situation in the north and east, a UNHCR-funded organisation in Jaffna is pushing ahead with construction of new shelters for people displaced or made homeless during the almost two decades of civil war.
The Jaffna Social Action Centre (JSAC) is building or upgrading more than 450 shelters across the Jaffna peninsula in the north for families living in makeshift shelters on their own land or still displaced since the 2002 ceasefire between the Government and the LTTE.
"We discussed the current situation and decided to overcome it," said Pathmanathan, JSAC's shelter project coordinator. "The people we are helping have been displaced for years. UNHCR has given us a golden opportunity to meet their needs so we just try to deal with the security problems."