Sri Lanka: helping many who have fled recent fighting
Since Saturday we have been helping many of the 21,000 Sri Lankans who have fled recent fighting in the north-east of the country. The 21,000 people have been displaced from the town of Muthur, which is across Koddiyar Bay from the port city of Trincomalee.
The displaced people are taking shelter mainly in schools and mosques and some are with host families in Kantale, Thankmaplagama, Kinniya and Trincomalee town. Kantale (south-west of Muthur), is now overflowing and has no room to house any more displaced people. Our staff report sporadic fighting is still going on around Muthur and they can hear gunfire from time to time
Working through local non-governmental organizations, we have distributed 1,800 plastic sheets, 2,000 jerry cans and 2,000 mats to displaced people. (Other agencies have distributed other essential household goods.) In addition, our office in Trincomalee plans to distribute a further 1,500 plastic sheets so that common cooking spaces can be set up. We are also shipping cooking equipment for the communal kitchens.
We have also bought certain items, such as underwear, in Trincomalee for distribution to particularly vulnerable displaced people, on the request of the health authorities. We are also shipping additional mats, jerry cans, kitchen sets and hygiene parcels to the area in the coming days.
We do not have access to Muthur, where 4,000 people are said to be trapped, or to Eachchilampattai, where some 11,000 people are said to be in dire need of humanitarian help.
On a related matter, we have joined other UN agencies and non-government organizations working in Sri Lanka in condemning in the strongest possible terms the execution-style killings of 15 workers from the French aid agency Action Contre la Faim who were doing aid work in Muthur following the December 2004 tsunami. The killings stand as a dark page in the history of humanitarian work in Sri Lanka.
We also remind both the Sri Lankan government forces and the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) of their duty and responsibility to provide protection and humanitarian assistance to internally displaced persons.
Before the latest outbreak of fighting, more than 312,000 people had been displaced within Sri Lanka since 1983, some 67,000 of whom are being assisted by UNHCR in welfare centres throughout the country. Since the unravelling of the 2002 ceasefire in April this year, and before this weekend's displacement, a further 50,000 people had fled their homes to find refuge elsewhere in the country, and the number who have fled the country to southern India's Tamil Nadu region since January has now reached 5,658. We have been operating in Sri Lanka since 1987, providing protection and assistance to people displaced by conflict