UN refugee agency concerned at camp conditions for Sri Lanka’s displaced

20 May 2009
Children and adults queue for safe water near rows of tents provided by UNHCR in the conflict zone in northern Sri Lanka

The United Nations refugee agency today expressed concern over conditions in the camps set up for people displaced by the recent fighting in Sri Lanka, including overcrowding and limited services.

Earlier this week, the Government of Sri Lanka declared that its military operation against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) had ended, and that the remaining civilians that were trapped in the conflict zone in the country’s north-east had left.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates that up to 80,000 people have left the conflict zone in the last three days alone, bringing the total number of those displaced in the last several months to 280,000.

“As the fighting in north-east Sri Lanka comes to an end, the scale of the challenges facing UNHCR and other humanitarian agencies on the ground become more apparent,” the agency’s spokesperson, Ron Redmond, told reporters in Geneva.

He said some 230,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) have been screened and registered and are currently accommodated in 41 sites spread across four districts. Another 50,000 people are undergoing screening and registration at various points and awaiting transportation to the sites.

Civilians coming out of the conflict zone are reported to be sick, hungry and suffering from acute malnourishment and dehydration. In addition, conditions at Omanthai school, where screening and registration takes place, have been described as “sub-standard in terms of hygiene, health and shelter,” according to the agency.

“This latest massive influx of people, who have endured extreme conditions, will put an even greater strain on the IDP sites in Vavuniya, Jaffna and Trincomalee, which are already buckling under the pressure of the existing population,” said Mr. Redmond.

“There are several issues that need urgent attention, including overcrowding and the limited services available at the camps,” he added. UNHCR is support the Government to address these problems by building 10,000 additional shelters.

At the same time, UNHCR is expressing concern that restrictions imposed by the authorities are hindering the agency’s access and ability to deliver humanitarian assistance to needy civilians, especially in the district Vavuniya.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is slated to visit Sri Lanka from 22–23 May to get a first-hand look at the situation on the ground.


♦ Receive daily updates directly in your inbox - Subscribe here to a topic.
♦ Download the UN News app for your iOS or Android devices.