Housing for growing number of Sri Lanka’s displaced major concern, says UN

30 April 2009
International Organization for Migration staff erect shelters at a Vavuniya camp in Sri Lanka for internally displaced people

With the number of people crossing out of the conflict zone in northern Sri Lanka growing daily, and several camps already very congested, the United Nations today voiced its continuing concern over accommodations for civilians fleeing the fighting between the Government and Tamil rebels.

“The United Nations continues to urge the Government to make available all public buildings and usable land for the accommodation of the large number of civilians,” UN spokesperson Marie Okabe told reporters in New York.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said that as of today, some 172,000 people have crossed out of the conflict zone, where fighting continues between Government forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). The vast majority of the internally displaced persons (IDPs) are in and around Vavuniya.

“There have been no new arrivals at Omanthai screening point in the last 24 hours, and the Government of Sri Lanka informs the UN that none are in transit,” Ms. Okabe stated.

Yesterday John Holmes, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, said the situation in the camps, while improving due to the efforts of aid agencies, remains less than optimal.

“The exodus of about 110,000 people in the course of last week in a very short space of time has posed, despite advance planning, very considerable logistical challenges in terms of shelter and food and other basic services,” he told a news conference, after having returned from a two-day visit to the country. “I think we’re beginning to get a grip on that.”

A major concern is congestion in the camps, as well as shelter, thus the urgent need for the allocation of more land by the Government in which to house the displaced.

Efforts in the camps in Jaffna have been stepped up in the areas of health, temporary teaching space, and provision of supplementary food, and protection. The overall situation in Jaffna is more manageable than Vavuniya, but access to camps remains an issue there, noted OCHA.

In response to the request by humanitarian agencies to allow freedom of movement of IDPs and release vulnerable populations from the camps, the Government authorities have released 111 elderly IDPs from Menik Farm camp and Vavuniya Sivapirakasa Ladies College, while 10 elderly IDPs were released from camps in Jaffna district.

Since the beginning of the year, Government authorities have released a total of more than 1,250 individuals from the camps.


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