UNHCR deeply concerned about newly displaced in Sri Lanka's north
COLOMBO, Sri Lanka, August 8 (UNHCR) - As the conflict intensifies in Sri Lanka's north, the UN refugee agency called Friday for urgent steps to ensure the protection of thousands of displaced families and unhindered passage for humanitarian aid.
Fierce fighting between government forces and the Liberation Tamil Tigers of Eelam (LTTE) is driving civilians out of northern parts of Manthai West in Mannar and Kilinochchi's Mulankavil area. They are travelling further north into Poonagary and central Karachchi, also in Kilinochchi district. This follows population movements within Kilinochchi district earlier in July, with people moving from Manthai East and Thunukkai further north into areas like Karachchi and Oddusudan.
"Although exact figures are still sketchy, more than 12,000 families are reported to have been displaced in July alone," said UNHCR spokesman Ron Redmond, expressing deep concern at a press briefing in Geneva Friday. "Movements, including multiple displacements, are continuing as people move ahead of the shifting frontlines to avoid the cross fire and stay out of shelling range."
He added that UN access to the majority of 10,000 internally displaced families in Karachchi has been cut off south and west of Akaryan due to relief workers' security concerns.
The displaced families are being accommodated in several areas in the Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu districts. A majority are staying out in the open. Some areas have reportedly exhausted their absorption capacity and four sites that were earlier designated and cleared in case of an emergency, could not be used as military operations moved closer.
UNHCR, local authorities and other agencies are distributing emergency shelter kits and tarpaulins to those in need and are looking into identifying additional sites to accommodate the newly displaced.
"We call on both parties to take immediate steps to ensure the protection of those affected; to allow freedom of movement for those seeking safety from the ongoing operations; and to ensure that the internally displaced are neither targeted nor located near military targets," said Redmond.
He also appealed to the authorities to allow unhindered passage for essential supplies as soon as possible, noting that strict restrictions on the transportation of goods into the region have prevented humanitarian agencies from replenishing dangerously low supplies of food, shelter materials, water and sanitation equipment, and fuel for the transportation of civilians.
The UNHCR spokesman appealed, "UNHCR is urging all parties to allow humanitarian access to the affected population, so that those affected can be provided with much-needed assistance in a timely manner and in line with international humanitarian law and practices."
The 25-year civil conflict in Sri Lanka has resulted in heavy casualties and large-scale displacement, including more than 194,000 people displaced in the last two years.