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Thursday 27 September 2012

Menik Farm camp in Sri Lanka to close
Menik Farm camp in Sri Lanka to close Photograph taken from ShelterBox's deployment in Sri Lanka at Menik Farm camp, May 2009.

What used to be one of the world's largest internally displaced persons (IDPs) camps, Menik Farm in northern Sri Lanka where ShelterBox delivered tents to three years ago, is to close at the end of September, according to government officials.

The 30-year civil war between the Sri Lankan Government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) was coming to a head in April 2009 with over 150,000 IDPs seeking refuge in the Vavuniya area in the Northern Province.

Every day more displaced families were reaching camps established by several other aid organisations already in country and the need for emergency shelter was ongoing.

Consequently, the Government of Sri Lanka asked ShelterBox to work with aid agency Habitat for Humanity (HFH) to help fill this void.

'We worked at Menik Farm where we set up tents for particularly vulnerable families like those with disabled or young children, pregnant women, injured persons or elderly,' said ShelterBox Response Team (SRT) member Mike Greenslade (AU), who worked with David Webber (UK), John Mackie (US) and John Cordell (US) to distribute a total of 448 boxes.

Respond quickly

ShelterBox was able to respond quickly to the Government's request by sending boxes that were prepositioned in Dubai and Singapore, cutting travelling time down dramatically.

Happy beneficiary family in their tent at Menik Farm, Sri Lanka, June 2009.

Response Team member Laura Jepson (UK) arrived in Sri Lanka at the beginning of June 2009 with Mike for a follow-up visit:

'The previous team had already set up 448 tents at the camp and families had moved in. We checked the condition the tents were in and carried out tent training with the beneficiaries to ensure the longevity of the tents.

'During our visit another 200 boxes were sent to the region from headquarters as thousands of injured people were being relocated from local schools to the camp.'

Rotary clubs in Sri Lanka were of great assistance to ShelterBox in bringing shelter to those families in need rapidly.

'Rotarians were amazing'

'The Sri Lankan Rotarians were amazing; so dedicated and passionate about helping their people,' said Laura. 'Security and access back into the camp was difficult and we couldn't have done it without them.'

Having completed her SRT training course just one day before she left for the Asian country, Laura was able to immediately put all the knowledge and skills she had developed into practice. She remembers feeling amazed at the strength of the human spirit:

'These people had fled fighting and violence; and travelled over 50 kilometres to reach the camp to then be unable to return home due to the threat of landmines... but everyone was still smiling, so friendly and welcoming.

'I remember one man who invited me into his tent to have a cup of tea with his family. They only had a few possessions but they invited me in. This is something that still amazes me.

ShelterBox tents gave families in the camp added safety and protection as conditions were fairly poor. Some tents were even 'customised.'


'One person had set up a barber shop and another had been a head teacher and so set up a school in his,' said Laura. 'The families seemed desperate to establish some sort of normality, a sense of community.'

At its peak, Menik Farm covered around 700 hectares and housed 225,000 people. Following years of criticism for the slow progress of resettlement by the Government, the camp is now set to close in the coming weeks.

SRT member Laura Jepson (UK) on a follow-up visit in Sri Lanka at Menik Farm, June 2009.

'The camp closure has taken three years due to multiple reasons,' said Gunaratne Weerakoon, the Minister of Resettlement. 'Demining is still in progress in the Mullativu District and some areas are not declared safe yet. Besides, material for home reconstruction has to be provided as many homes are nothing more than rubble and not habitable.'

Laura believes it's a difficult and sensitive issue: 'The situation has been very complex, especially as the cause is manmade and a lot of politics are involved. The process of resettling hundreds of thousands of people and closing down what was once one of the world's largest IDP camps is not an easy task.'

Optimism and trepidation

The Government has made plans with help from aid agencies for the remaining families still in Menik farm to assist them to their home areas within the next few days, including special resettlement packages for returnees and multiple livelihood support schemes.

Both optimism and trepidation are the feelings amongst the residents over the camp's closure.

'I'm excited at the prospect of finally returning home, but I'm also worried,' said resident Ilangithirayan Saumyamurthy from Jaffna District.

Another camp resident aged 41-years old agreed: 'Starting all over again - even with assistance - won't be easy.'
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