June 5 2009

SOS Children's Villages granted access to refugee camps in Sri Lanka

05/06/2009 - The government of Sri Lanka has declared the civil war over following its victory over the Tamil rebels, but hundreds of thousands of people are still living in refugee camps, including many unaccompanied children. In the past week a team from SOS Children's Villages has become the first children's aid organisation to be allowed to visit one of the refugee camps and hold talks with the government authorities about how and where help can be provided.

Photo: SOS Archives
Living conditions in the camps are very cramped, which affects children particularly - Photo: SOS Archives

The SOS team was allowed to travel to Vavuniya, 70km north of Anuradhapura, where most of the refugees are. In Chettikulam near Vavuniya there are four huge camps, where 250,000 people are living in tent cities, field camps and barracks. The camp visited by SOS Children's Villages alone is accommodating up to 79,000 refugees, including hundreds of children who have lost one or both parents or become separated from their families.

Intensive negotiations are underway as to how and where SOS Children's Villages can help. The offer of caring for up to 400 children, made several weeks ago, (see report of 14 May 2009) still stands and is welcomed by the relevant authorities. SOS Children's Villages would in the first instance erect provisional accommodation on the ground and provide the children with comprehensive care in material terms as well as medical and psychological treatment. In parallel to this, intensive efforts would be made to ascertain the whereabouts of their families.

Photo: SOS Archives
Supplying clean water and sanitation are the biggest problems  - Photo: SOS Archives

If within a certain timeframe the family situation cannot be clarified and family reunification is not (yet) possible, the children will be temporarily accommodated in SOS Children's Village Nuwara Eliya. Nuwara Eliya is in a region inhabited by Tamils, which would facilitate linguistic and cultural integration. If necessary, an additional building could be rented in order to be able to take in orphans and children without any family protection.

Photo: SOS Archives
The refugees want to return to their homes as soon as possible - Photo: SOS Archives
SOS Children's Villages has been aware for years of the sometimes precarious situation of children without parental care in the north and east of Sri Lanka and the great need for social programmes for families. Depending on how the situation develops in the areas formerly ravaged by the civil war and on how many children need long-term out-of-home care, it may be feasible to build an SOS Children's Village and start family strengthening programmes.