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UNHCR responding to large civilian movements in Sri Lanka's north

Briefing notes

UNHCR responding to large civilian movements in Sri Lanka's north

21 April 2009

UNHCR is ready to assist tens of thousands of internally displaced people (IDPs) who are on the move into government-controlled areas from the conflict zone in Sri Lanka's north-eastern coastal pocket.

Yesterday, the Government of Sri Lanka informed UNHCR and other agencies that an estimated 40,000 people had fled areas where the military and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) are engaged in heavy fighting. They were expected to reach the districts of Vavuniya and Jaffna within 48 hours. This would bring the estimated total to have fled the conflict zone to more than 100,000, a majority of whom have fled in recent weeks.

Of the anticipated 40,000 displaced, so far we have confirmed reports that some 5,500 people have reached sites in Vavuniya, while another 2,000 new arrivals were recorded in Jaffna yesterday. As civilians are transported into the sites, UNHCR is still ascertaining the total number of new IDPs in the two districts.

UNHCR, together with the government and partners, is providing emergency shelter support and non-food aid to the new arrivals while carrying out protection monitoring at the sites. UNHCR staff are also present at the screening point in Omanthai on a daily basis, but they do not have direct access to the IDPs.

With more similar movements expected, UNHCR and shelter agencies are working with the government to identify more land, including in the district of Mannar, to alleviate overcrowding at the existing IDP sites. We are also stockpiling relief items in preparation for additional displacement.

UNHCR remains deeply concerned about the plight of the civilian population still trapped inside the conflict zone, where the situation is reported as dire. We again call on the LTTE to immediately allow people to move to areas where they feel safe. We also urge both parties to the conflict to adhere to international humanitarian law and ensure that the safety of the innocent civilian population is the top priority.