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UMCOR Sri Lanka is Helping Families Return Home After Weeks of Violence

14 September 2006

COLOMBO, SRI LANKA, Sept. 14, 2006- Thousands of families from Trincomalee District who fled the outbreak of armed conflict in northeastern Sri Lanka in late July are leaving behind tent camps, schools, and places of worship, where they sought refuge over the past several weeks, to return home. The United Methodist Committee on Relief Non-Governmental Organization (UMCOR NGO), in partnership with the Methodist Church of Sri Lanka (MCSL) and Muslim Aid, are assisting returning families, regardless of ethnicity or religion, in Muttur and surrounding areas. To help these families resettle in their homes, UMCOR Sri Lanka is providing return kits that include basic cleaning supplies and hygiene items, in which distribution of an initial supply of 4,000 kits is underway. Basic materials for repair of damaged homes will also be provided to returning families.

"UMCOR is committed to supporting the safe and voluntary return of displaced persons to their homes," stated Guy Hovey, UMCOR Sri Lanka's Head of Mission. "An important part of the return process is making sure that people who go back home can access durable shelter, nutritious food, clean water, sanitation, and health care. UMCOR Sri Lanka is working closely with the government and other aid agencies to address these basic human needs."

Encouraging Independence

As some displaced persons are returning to houses that were damaged or destroyed during the conflict with few personal possessions and little or no money to provide for themselves, income generation is essential if they are to remain in their villages for the longer-term. Of particular concern are those whose livelihoods were destroyed during the conflict, such as farmers who lost their harvest and fishermen who are unable to return to the sea. UMCOR Sri Lanka is beginning to help conflict affected persons transition from aid dependence to income generation by providing short-term employment to hundreds of individuals in Muttur and surrounding areas. Participants in this cash-for-work program, which is scheduled to get underway in the coming weeks, will earn an income by contributing to the clean up and rehabilitation of their communities.

"UMCOR's programming philosophy in Sri Lanka and other parts of the world is that beneficiaries are viewed as partners instead of passive recipients of aid," said Mohamed Hilmi, UMCOR Sri Lanka's Deputy Head of Mission. "By working in collaboration with members of returning and receiving communities, we look forward to enabling families who participate in the cash-for-work program to continue to earn money until they are able to resume their regular livelihood activities."

Assistance During the Conflict

UMCOR Sri Lanka is among a handful of humanitarian aid organizations that continued to operate at full capacity in Trincomalee District during the conflict through its field operations in Kantale, where over 50,000 people were displaced, and an office in Muttur Town that is shared with Muslim Aid. Since the beginning of August UMCOR Sri Lanka, along with the MCSL, Muslim Aid, and several community based organizations, has played a critical role in assisting thousands of families displaced in Kantale and surrounding areas through the following emergency relief activities: distributing over $200,000 in non-food relief items, such as hygiene kits, to thousands of displaced families; operating a warehouse in Kantale for storage of relief items; providing transportation for sick and disabled displaced persons in need of urgent medical care; supporting the operation of the field hospital in Kantale with basic medical supplies and equipment; and advocating for the fulfillment of basic human needs to the government and aid agencies on behalf of displaced persons.

UMCOR is working in partnership with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and in collaboration with Muslim Aid to carry out activities that include: supporting the work of the Divisional Secretary office in Muttur, developing a returns database to track the status and return interest of displaced families, providing information to displaced persons interested in return, and supporting the return and reintegration of displaced persons through distribution of return kits and basic shelter repair materials, as well as implementing a cash-for-work program.

How You Can Help

Cash gifts support UMCOR's relief efforts in Sri Lanka. Checks can be mailed to UMCOR, PO Box 9068, New York, NY 10087. Write "UMCOR Advance #982450, International Disaster Response - Sri Lanka" on the memo line of your check. One hundred percent of your gift will contribute to relief in Sri Lanka.

*Release revised September 21, 2006