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Australian Sri Lankan Diaspora needed back home

August 9, 2009

ABC – Australian Sri Lankan Diaspora needed back home

The Sri Lankan government has begun allowing people displaced by the civil war with the Tamil Tiger rebels to return home, but a major de-mining operation is required before large-scale re-settlement can begin.

Presenter: Stephanie Foxley
Speaker: Jason Thomas relief worker with the International Advisory Council and the Australian Medical Aid Foundation

THOMAS: Look the Government has a program on resettling people within 180 days. Which may be an oportunist approach because there’s such a large number of people across a large area, it’s a very slow process, the roads are very slow, so I applaud their enthusiasm but I think it’s going to be an enormous task to resettle these people back to their homes.

FOXLEY: Are lives to be potentially lost in the interim?

THOMAS: Look I think that in any refugee situation, that you see around the world, this is no different there are camps there are forty, fifty, sixty thousand people in very small areas, but what I think is really important to get across to people is if we can encourage doctors, particularly from the Sri Lankan diaspora comunity in Australia and even more particularly Tamil doctors to come up, to come to this area and to work, and that’s a message that the Sri Lankan Government have been giving me and asking me to relay that to Australia and to ask the diaspora doctors to come and work up in these areas and lend a hand in the camps particularly to the women and children who have greater need.

FOXLEY: What are the health issues?

THOMAS: Things like chicken pox, measles.. there’s malaria, the water situation there is quite dire because it’s quite dry at the moment and literally in two months time they’ll have the opposite they’ll have the rainly season starting and you’ll have a flood of water. I can’t imaging the situation in the camps during the rainy season, I think that if the Government can stick to their plan and have people relocate as soon as possible that will avoid a very dire situation in the short term.

FOXLEY: And are there any discussions with government over asking for instance Australian companies let’s say who specialise in solar power to bring their knowledge to Sri Lanka for the North?

THOMAS: That’s an excellent question, because I met with the President of the Sri Lanka/Australia business council just this week, I also met with the President’s advisor and will be meeting again next week about that very issue, about asking Australian companies who are very good at solar power to come and lend their skills and experience to provide solar power to some of the smaller townships, because as we all know, providing power, provides, light and if can provide light that really does lift the prospects of many people in the community so this is a very important message to get across to Australian companies that are good at that to assist.

FOXLEY: Now, You are going to Mannar next which requires a higher level of clearance, I understand, what do you expect to find there?

THOMAS: Well I think what I expect to find there is a group of people in Mannar who have been there for a lot longer, it will be interesting to see how people become used to the situation they are in rather than anxiously looking to get out. I think one of the sad things is you can find people in this situation just like after a sunami, it becomes an ingrained lifestyle, the camps become a semi-permanent feature on the landscape and I suspect that that could be part of the picture in Mannar. But, there’s also projects that I want to look at such as the prothesis clinic, we get a lot of amputies in that area, and a physio therapy clinic just to make sure those programs are working and providing an adequate service and also ask the local doctors what other support they need and again take their message back to Australia and encourage the doctors from Australia and particularly the Tala doctors to come back and work here.

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