Sri Lanka

Searching for peace in the camps of Sri Lanka

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CAFOD is helping people living in temporary camps in Sri Lanka who were forced to flee their homes because of the ongoing violence in the country

Anthony Lenard had few options when Sri Lanka's long simmering war caught up with him again.

With his village in flames, and his mother killed, he rounded up his family and headed in the only direction he knew was safe.

"On one side was the sea, on the other was fighting, so we had no option but to come here" Lenard said.

I fear for the safety of my children, there are reports of unrest so I don't want to take chances

Here is a sweltering schoolyard in the city of Batticaloa, now a camp for some of the estimated 185,000 people displaced by the most recent wave of conflict in Sri Lanka's embattled east.

At its peak early in 2007, as many as 308,000 people had been displaced by the violence and as many as 70,000 Sri Lankans have been killed since 1983.

Finding help

Local church organisation, Caritas Sri Lanka, has been assisting those affected by the fighting with CAFOD's help.

Lenard and 360 others at the Sinhala Maha Vidhalayam camp in Batticaloa, have received meals, clothing, and kitchen utensils. .

Arriving with others at the empty school building that was to become home, Lenard, his three grown sons, and his 14-year-old twins crowded into two tiny rooms; the walls a simple partition of plastic.

"When we first came here there were only a few families," Lenard said, "then more started coming."

Like many in the North and East of Sri Lanka, this is not Lenard's first experience of displacement, and twice before he has had to flee with his family.

Worse still, this coastal area was heavily damaged by the tsunami of 2004, which killed tens of thousands of Sri Lankans and destroyed thousands of homes.

While Caritas Sri Lanka built or repaired more than 7,000 homes for those affected by the tsunami, the fighting that flared up in 2007 has presented a new and challenging crisis.

Grave fears

Understandably, Lenard has grave fears about going back to his village near the town of Muthur, scene of some of the heaviest fighting.

Lenard said "I fear for the safety of my children, there are reports of unrest so I don't want to take chances,"

A trained electrician, Lenard supports himself with small electrical jobs, getting contracts once or twice a month.

His eldest son has a job with a local telecommunications provider, and with assistance from Caritas, his twins have been placed in a local school.

"Initially there were problems and it was difficult for them to make friends," Lenard said. "But now they are used to it."

Yet life remains hard; camp life is both uncomfortable and uncertain.

Except for the luxury of a TV, salvaged from his home on a trip back to Muthur, the family has little besides what was provided for them by aid agencies.

While the burden of responsibility for his family adds even more stress to his life, Lenard is firmly committed to the safety of his children, and equally sure about what it will take before he will move back to his former home.

"It won't be a good time for me to go back until the fighting stops, and there is harmony."