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Sri Lanka: Concern over civilian displacement in north

Briefing notes

Sri Lanka: Concern over civilian displacement in north

8 August 2008

UNHCR is deeply concerned over the safety of thousands of families fleeing fierce fighting in the north of Sri Lanka as the conflict between government forces and the Liberation Tamil Tigers of Eelam (LTTE) reaches new heights.

Amid intensified fighting in the region, 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.

In addition, supplies of food, shelter materials, water and sanitation equipment, and fuel for the transportation of civilians are running dangerously low. Efforts by humanitarian agencies to replenish the stocks are hindered by the strict restrictions on the transport of goods into the region. UNHCR calls upon the authorities to allow unhindered passage for essential supplies as soon as possible.

Civilians are pouring out of northern parts of Manthai West in Mannar and Kilinochchi's Mulankavil area, and travelling further north into Poonagary and central Karachchi, also in the Kilinochchi district. Earlier in July, population movements took place within the Kilinochchi district, as people made their way 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, with movements including multiple displacements continuing as people move ahead of the shifting frontlines to avoid the crossfire and to stay out of shelling range. Most recently, UN access to the majority of 10,000 IDP families in Karachchi has been cut off south and west of Akaryan because of security concerns of relief workers.

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 are already said to have exhausted their absorption capacity and four sites that were earlier designated and cleared in case of an emergency, could not be utilized as military operations moved closer. UNHCR, local authorities and other agencies operating in the affected areas are looking into identifying additional sites to accommodate newly displaced. We and our partners, in coordination with local government authorities and other agencies, are distributing emergency shelter kits and tarpaulins to those in need.

UNHCR is urging all parties to allow humanitarian access to the affected population so they can be provided with much-needed assistance in a timely manner and in line with international humanitarian law and practices.