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‘We did not even take our clothes’

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All they wanted was to go home.

But as one man in a camp noted, their `future is a big question mark', as Sri Lanka is once again on the brink of a bloody war.

Over 200,000 people have been displaced by the recent spate of violence in the north and east of the country, between the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and the government.

As many as 75,000 people have been internally displaced and driven into camps, when the Sri Lankan Army attacked Vakarai, a pocket of LTTE controlled land on Sri Lanka's eastern coast.

"We did not even take clothes or food. Nor did we have time to lock our house. We have lost everything," says N. Manjuladevi with a weary smile.

Manjuladevi and her family, along with thousands of others, sought refuge at a camp in Batticaloa after fleeing heavy shelling in Vakarai. She came in mid December, with her family and her 7-day old baby.

"It is almost two months now in the camp," she winces.

"At first we did not want to flee, leaving behind our hard-earned belongings. Everyday shelling and air strikes made people very frightened, and when eight of our neighbours died, we decided to move," she says.

After crossing a lagoon, they had to walk through jungles for two days before reaching government controlled areas.

As the camps are congested with tents too close to each other, families are not yet allowed to cook for themselves, because of fire risks.

"It is too hot inside tents. I do not know what to do during rains, with a baby … I miss our house, but I am still afraid to go back," she says.

Heat is fierce in these low tents congested in Manmunai North site. Water and sanitation facilities are only basic. Their hardships are endless, the misery continues.

Displaced people are uncertain and afraid about returning home. In addition they have no idea if their homes are safe or destroyed.

Many anticipate that it will be months before they can even think about moving back home, and many are still shaken by the violence that caused them to flee their homes.

Although the camps are intended to be short term, too many displaced persons live in them for months.

The squalid, overcrowded camp situations often lead to psycho-social problems, and subsistence conditions remain critical, particularly regarding access to basic social services such as clean water and sanitation, shelter, education and health care.

It is therefore important to take prompt action to improve the sites and its-facilities and to ensure that those who live in the camps are protected and assisted with a special focus on the groups most at risk: women and children.

With a crying need for vital assistance for effective camp management, Norwegian Refugee Council extended its camp management activities to address the needs of the newly displaced populations in some 50 camps in seven DS divisions in Batticaloa.

NRC is well known in the humanitarian sector for its expertise in camp management following the agency's training programme for government authorities, NGOs, the UN and other organisations, implemented in several districts in the country to assist people displaced by the 2004 tsunami.

"The standard of living in the camps is also often extremely poor and there is a pressing need for empowering camp residents to maintain their temporary shelter as much as for emergency assistance and," explains Natalia Pascual, Programme Coordinator for Camp Management Training in Batticaloa.

The project does not involve direct administration of the camps by NRC, but rather focuses on gathering information to address gaps and improve protection and facilities, while also strengthening the capacity of existing camp leadership structures to ensure adequate service provision.

Well trained camp managers in the field play a critical role in fulfilling the fundamental rights of displaced people living in camps.

NRC provides comprehensive training in camp management to over 175 staff from NGOs, government authorities (GS and DS), camp management agencies, IDP committees and host community.

They are further trained on-site in more practical manner to meet basic needs and gaps.

Sanitation, protection and aid distribution have all been major issues in these IDP camps over the past two months and before launching the programme, NRC trainers visited sites and met with camp leaders.

The programme, sponsored by the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs is designed to provide service providers in camps with a better understanding of their roles and responsibilities in improving conditions and delivering services to camp populations.

The NRC programme included provision of a camp management toolkit and case studies relating to site design, protection, community participation and camp maintenance.

NRC assists in forming IDP committees in those camps where no community structures are yet in place, and also coordinates and arranges General Coordination meetings at divisional level with government authorities, camp mangers and host of other service providers.

NRC ensures efficient and timely delivery of all services in accordance with international standards through coordination, identification of gaps and monitoring as well as by avoiding duplication.

This has led to an increased focus on camp security and improved coordination of the collaboration between residents and on-site assistance organisations.

Most of the agencies working as camp managers are with little or no experience in camp management, they are quite grateful to NRC for comprehensive, capacity building trainings.

There is much improvement we see among those who have participated in the training workshops, it is very encouraging to see them applying what they learn in their work," says Natalia.

Peace and calm must seem like a distant memory to Manjuladevi and many of those waiting in Batticaloa, but they can now look forward to better coordinated and effective service delivery in camps with the help of NRC's camp management trainings.

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