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Thousands of Displaced Sri Lankans Need Help to Rebuild Lives

The Sri Lanka Red Cross and International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies are appealing for nearly $3.5 million to assist 25,000 internally displaced people in the north of Sri Lanka. Many of these people are victims of a long civil war and the Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004.

The Red Cross says its new appeal will focus on families returning to northeastern Sri Lanka districts, such as Kilinochchi and conflict-affected areas, including Vavuniya, Trincomalee, and Jaffna.

The head of communications for the Asia-Pacific Red Cross, Jason Smith, says people returning will have to live with the terrible legacy of decades of conflict and the devastation brought about by the 2004 tsunami.

In a telephone interview from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Smith tells VOA these two disasters have made the areas of return extremely vulnerable and unstable. "It is about time that these folks are able to get back to some quality of life. To return to the communities where they grew up and where they hope to raise families and teach their children and live out the balance of what we hope will be healthier lives," he said.

The Red Cross reports nearly 93,000 people remain in temporary camps in several parts of Sri Lanka. But, it estimates 185,000 displaced people have made their way back to the homes they fled years ago.

It says those who have gone back have limited access to basic services, to medical care and shelter.

Smith says money from the appeal will be used to help returning families construct 200 houses and repair 950 damaged houses. He says it will be used to provide essential services and to help restart livelihoods.

"Examples of this might include rebuilding of basic road infrastructure by communities," said Smith. "The roads need to be rebuilt. Local community members need work. If they can be hired to do that essential humanitarian work, it helps them to be able to care for their own families on their own."

"Other examples might include things like providing seeds or seedlings for individuals to begin agricultural production. There are even examples of us training and providing resources for communities to take up rickshaw driving," he added.

Smith says about 75 percent of the houses where displaced people are to be resettled are damaged and in need of repair, and 25 percent of permanent houses need to be reconstructed.

He says children are returning to school classrooms without roofs, chairs or tables.