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Unrest affects Red Cross tsunami projects in Jaffna

Tuesday October 17, 2006

During early August hostilities between the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and the Sri Lankan Army escalated in the Jaffna district of Northern Sri Lanka. Though some staff had been at project sites when hostilities broke out nearby, all Australian Red Cross international and local staff, as well as daily labourers were quickly accounted for.

Due to the dangers posed to staff and difficulty accessing project sites as a result of widespread curfews and fighting, Australian Red Cross staff have temporarily suspended field activities in and around Jaffna. Australian Red Cross is providing support to local staff and their families who are from areas affected by conflict.

The unrest has affected six of eighteen Australian Red Cross tsunami rehabilitation projects. These projects have been temporarily moved to standby mode, says Australian Red Cross Acting Country Manager for Sri Lanka, Barry Armstrong.

'The security situation in the north of Sri Lanka makes it impossible for our aid workers to make field visits. But our staff remain hard at work with project activities that don't require visiting the field sites, such as procuring equipment for the hospital Australian Red Cross is refurbishing in Jaffna.'

Helping across Sri Lanka

Australian Red Cross has eighteen tsunami recovery projects located in the north, south and east of Sri Lanka. Projects in the south and east, including housing reconstruction, water and sanitation, hospital refurbishment and other health related projects are continuing largely unaffected by the escalation of fighting, Barry reports.

The six projects affected by the conflict in Jaffna include housing reconstruction, hospital refurbishment, livelihoods assistance, and a First Aid training program with the Sri Lankan Red Cross -- although skills already gained through the First Aid program are being utilised by Sri Lankan Red Cross volunteers responding to the unrest. It is understood that many of the beneficiaries of the Australian Red Cross village and housing reconstruction project in Jaffna have temporarily relocated due to the fighting in the vicinity.

A long-term, holistic commitment

'We are really disappointed that the current security situation has driven communities struggling to come to terms with post-tsunami life from their villages, and led to the relocation of staff from Jaffna,' Barry says.

'But we remain committed to completing humanitarian assistance projects for the people of Sri Lanka affected by the tsunami, including those areas also affected by conflict.'

The Red Cross movement has an abiding commitment to the Fundamental Principles of Neutrality and Impartiality in all its work. Australian Red Cross therefore seeks to return to Jaffna as soon as circumstances allow.

The International Committee of the Red Cross and the Sri Lanka Red Cross are continuing to provide emergency humanitarian assistance to civilians affected by hostilities.