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Sri Lanka: heavy fighting causes more displacement

Briefing notes

Sri Lanka: heavy fighting causes more displacement

15 August 2006

Continued heavy fighting in the north and east of Sri Lanka has sent several thousand more civilians fleeing their homes in search of safety in the last few days. Freedom of movement is heavily restricted in many areas, making it difficult both for civilians to move and for us to deliver much needed aid to them.

Since April we have recorded 128,850 people newly displaced within Sri Lanka, including more than 50,000 who fled since the flare-up of violence in Muttur and its surrounding areas in Trincomalee District on 3 August. A further 6,672 Sri Lankans have become refugees in Tamil Nadu in India since the beginning of the year.

For the last few days, because of strict local curfews, civilians in the northern Jaffna District have not been able to travel long distances to safer areas, but have been moving a short distance away from the coast to avoid the worst of the fighting. However, thousands of families are still trapped on the islands off Jaffna Peninsula and are unable to move freely.

UNHCR, together with other UN agencies, is preparing an assessment mission to Jaffna District to see exactly what people's needs are. Our offices are ready to distribute emergency packs, additional water jerry cans, water bladders and lanterns if required.

Many of the people who could get out of Jaffna District have begun making their way south to Kilinochchi District, an area controlled by the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE or the Tamil Tigers, as they are commonly known), where the displaced are being assisted in schools and other communal centres.

While air strikes in Batticaloa District have hindered access to many affected areas UNHCR, ICRC and other partners have worked closely with the military and local authorities to secure safe passage to the LTTE-controlled area of Vaharai Division. This much-needed positive development allowed agencies last Friday (11 August) to deliver truckloads of food and medicine to civilians affected by the fighting. The next day, further food and water supplies were permitted into the area, as well as tarpaulins, hygiene items and jerry cans provided by UNHCR.

Access to Muttur and Eachchilampattai in Trincomalee District is still blocked. We and our partners are deeply concerned about the well-being of those still trapped in these areas, estimated to number around 15,000.

Meanwhile, resources in Kantale - a small town to the south of Trincomalee which has received many of the district's 50,000-plus displaced people - are coming under enormous strain. Local authorities are searching for new sites to accommodate the newly displaced and decongest the overcrowded communal shelters, where fears for health and sanitation remain high.