Sri Lanka: UNHCR struggling to provide for tens of thousands of newly displaced

Briefing Notes, 18 May 2009

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Ron Redmond to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 18 May 2009, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

It is now estimated that 65,000 people have left the former fighting zone in north-east Sri Lanka, which brings the total who have fled the fighting in the last several months to 265,000.

This latest massive influx of people, who have endured extreme conditions, will put an even greater strain on the transit and IDP sites that are already buckling under the pressure of the existing IDP population.

UNHCR plans to put up an additional 10,000 emergency shelters to accommodate the tens of thousands who have left the combat zone and who are expected to arrive seeking shelter in coming days.

For the time being, our existing shelter and relief items are sufficient to respond to the IDPs immediate needs but stocks are running low and will need to replenish them soon.

We are reiterating our request to the government to allocate more land for the construction of emergency shelter, water and sanitation facilities, as well as to provide public buildings in Vavuniya, Jaffna, Mannar and Kilinochchi in order to accommodate arriving IDPs.

UNHCR is calling on the government to take immediate steps to improve conditions at the 42 existing sites hosting the IDPs and ensure adequate care and maintenance for the population of concern.

Our access to the Vavuniya sites has been greatly curtailed over the past few days and this affects our ability to monitor and distribute aid to the displaced. We hope this ends quickly.