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Just another day for the displaced in north-eastern Sri Lanka

10-10-2006 Feature

After the tsunami, the District of Batticaloa had slowly begun to get back on its feet when violence erupted once more last July. The ICRC's Maryam Kashefi describes a typical day in the bursting refugee camps that have had to accommodate over 58,000 displaced people in the last two months.

ICRC convoys of assistance to the most vulnerable people living in unclear areas (those controlled by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) were deployed within days of the outbreak of violence. The convoys provide clean water and sanitation, non-food items, medical assistance, as well as shelter to improve living conditions.

  ©ICRC/N. Ng/lk-e-00172    
  ICRC convoy transports humanitarian aid to Vakarai.    

 Early morning convoy  

The day starts early in the ICRC Batti delegation six days a week. Everyone knows what needs to be done in the first hour. The convoy must get on its way. Access permissions are granted from both sides. Mine-clearance of roads is checked. Trucks are loaded at the warehouse. Bowsers are filled with water. Staff members of the Sri Lanka Red Cross (SLRCS) join the fleet. Teams gather near the land cruisers and wait for the green light from the convoy captain.

This will be a long fleet. A combination of land cruisers, heavy trucks and pick-ups, all carrying the ICRC flag as they meander towards Vakarai. The journey takes three hours.

Tarpaulin shelters are spread along the roads and inland. Blue and black water tanks, for the most part set up by the ICRC, are scattered along the main roads and near the camps. People are queuing at water and distribution points. They are smiling as the trucks back into their usual places to begin distribution.

The hospital is crowded. Health teams are patrolling the camps. They visit the sick, soothe their pain and bring needed medication. Severely ill patients are transferred to Batticaloa hospital in ICRC land cruisers that serve as ambulances.

 "I Am Alive"  

Then there are those who look very worried. They have not heard from their loved ones and are waiting for the ICRC/SLRCS tracing team. While some receive Red Cross messages bearing much-anticipated news, others write them. They fill out tracing requests and give news to their family members through “I Am Alive " messages. “Nandri/thank you”, they say, smiling as they leave with new hope in their heart.

This is not the sole protection activity of the ICRC in Batticaloa. As one ICRC team works under the sun in the Vakarai region, other staff members are occupied with activities relating to long-term violence. Tracing requests, allegations of arrests and reports of underage recruitment are conveyed to the delegation daily. Requests are submitted to the relevant authorities enquiring about the whereabouts, visitation rights and release of children under 18 years of age.

Detention visits are ongoing and mortal remains from both parties are transferred from both unclear and clear areas.

It's just another day in Batticaloa.