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Sri Lanka displacement tops 100,000

Briefing notes

Sri Lanka displacement tops 100,000

24 April 2009

Fresh displacement has topped 100,000 in Sri Lanka's north as tens of thousands of civilians continue to flee heavy fighting between government forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in the north-eastern coastal belt of the Mullaitivu district.

UNHCR continues to support the government in managing the intensifying emergency in Vavuniya and Jaffna. A majority of the displaced - an estimated 97,000 people - are in Vavuniya while smaller movements were also recorded in Jaffna during the course of the week. We are working with partners to provide emergency shelter support and the distribution of non-food aid while carrying out protection monitoring at the transit and IDP sites. UNHCR and shelter partners are also putting up tents within the vicinity of existing transit sites to increase the total capacity. There are some 38 different IDP sites. Yesterday, UNHCR received reports that some 1,200 new arrivals were recorded in Trincomalee and are currently being accommodated in Pulmoddai, north of the district.

Meanwhile, UNHCR welcomes the government's decision to open the Mannar and Trincomalee areas to accommodate the large number of new arrivals and future movements. We are also working with the government to identify additional land and buildings for the new arrivals in Vavuniya and Jaffna. In addition, UNHCR is seeking access to Kilinochchi to provide assistance to people on the move.

Overcrowding continues to be an overriding concern at all IDP sites, especially in terms of the large numbers in Vavuniya. With tens of thousands expected during the next few days, UNHCR is asking the government to speed up the process of identifying additional sites for new arrivals. We are also calling on the government to provide partners with unhindered access to sites to carry out relief work. Failure to do so could have an impact on services which are already stretched thin at the sites.

UNHCR remains deeply concerned about the estimated 50,000 people who are still trapped inside the conflict zone where fighting is intensifying. We urge the government to exercise extreme caution in its military actions and calls upon the LTTE to allow displaced people to leave the area immediately.