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Sri Lanka: India pledges to keep borders open

Briefing notes

Sri Lanka: India pledges to keep borders open

19 May 2000

UNHCR remains very concerned about the condition of people forced to leave their homes in Sri Lanka's Jaffna peninsula. While most of the displaced people have found shelter in the homes of friends and relatives, a number of those who are encamped in communal centres are in a difficult situation. Food has not been delivered and lack of sanitation is causing concern. During a visit to the Manipoy area just outside Jaffna town, UNHCR reported that more than 4,000 people are crammed into five communal centres, which have little water and sanitation facilities. Some children were suffering from malaria, chickenpox and diarrhoea.

UNHCR staff, along with other aid agencies, are attempting to deliver today urgently needed relief supplies to the area. The relief effort has been hampered by a 24-hour curfew which was extended on Thursday from Jaffna town and two neighbouring areas to the entire peninsula. UNHCR staff, however, are able to move with curfew passes. For two days this week, the curfew was relaxed for three hours. During this period, UNHCR staff reported a surge of people leaving their homes heading for safer areas to the north and west of the peninsula. But with the extension of the curfew to the entire peninsula, movement of people has been restricted.

UNHCR staff have been urging authorities both in Jaffna and Colombo to allow people to seek refuge away from the fighting. At Chennai, in southern India, Indian officials today reassured UNHCR that India will continue to open its borders to refugees from Sri Lanka. UNHCR was told that preparations are being made to receive refugees and that the effort is being supported by the central government in New Delhi. The Indian officials said that few people have arrived from Jaffna and the 400 Sri Lankans who had come to India over the past two months were mostly those from areas unaffected by the current fighting but were apprehensive they may soon be engulfed in the conflict.