Displaced for 10 years, Sri Lankans find new homes under UN-backed project
More than 360 displaced families have been given new homes in northern Sri Lanka under a United Nations-backed programme after spending a decade in overcrowded welfare centres for internally displaced persons (IDP).
The Government allocated half an acre of land per family in the first two relocation sites, while the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) funded the construction of houses with donor support. A further 135 houses were completed by the UN Development Programme (UNDP) under an Australian-supported scheme.
Overall 365 families received housing certificates and keys to their new homes at a handover ceremony in Vavuniya district last week ¬ – 100 families at the Kankankulam relocation site, 130 at Kalmadu and 135 at Manipuram.
“We are very happy living here,” said an IDP who came from Mullativu division, one of the main hotspots of the conflict between Government forces and the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). “We feel safer than in Pavatkulam IDP village, where we lived for about 10 years.”
His family had been forced to leave their village in 1999 for Mannar district in the north-west, but they were later forced to flee again to Vavuniya.
“During our displacement, we lost our house and our livestock. We had nothing until we were allocated land and a new house in Kankankulam village,” he added, looking happily at his new property.
There are many more displaced Sri Lankans who have been living in Vavuniya’s welfare centres and IDP villages for more than a decade. For most, the conflict in northern Sri Lanka means that returning home is still not an option due to concern for physical safety and the lack of access to livelihoods. Under these circumstances, relocation is the most appropriate durable solution.
Since 2006, UNHCR, in collaboration with local authorities and other humanitarian agencies, has been building entire villages in Vavuniya district and helping hundreds of people to re-establish their lives. It will continue to advocate with the Government to identify suitable land where long-term IDPs can be relocated, providing them with an opportunity to start a better life in their own home.
The UNHCR office in Vavuniya is working with local authorities and other humanitarian agencies to open a new relocation site in Cheddikulam division next year to host another 300 IDP families who cannot return to their areas of origin. Meanwhile, displacement continues amid fighting further north, with some 15,000 people fleeing their homes