Thousands of lives are at risk in Sri Lanka because aid to refugees is being restricted by a government ban on aid agency vehicles entering the camps, and difficulties in securing access for staff, Oxfam said today.
Without appropriate staff and access for vehicles agencies cannot adequately provide urgently needed services including food, water and sanitation equipment, leading to health risks amongst the war-weary refugees who are almost totally reliant on aid.
There is already an epidemic of chickenpox and skin diseases and a growing number of hepatitis cases because of poor sanitation.
As UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon prepared to visit the camps, Oxfam called on the Sri Lankan government to allow better access to the camps and to drop its vehicle ban, which has been in place since Sunday.
David White Oxfam’s Acting Country Director said: “The camps in Sri Lanka are huge. They stretch over 1,000 acres and take nearly an hour to walk across. Without vehicles we can’t do our work properly and that’s putting lives at risk.
"Thousands of people are arriving from the war zone in a very weak condition. We’re very worried about their health, with small children and the elderly being particularly at risk. Keeping aid agencies out will only make their condition more critical.
“We’re asking the Sri Lankan government to adhere to the guiding principles, agreed to by them, international donors and aid agencies, and let us do our job properly.”
The Menik Farm camps, near Vavuniya in the north of the country, are still expanding with traumatised people pouring in from the conflict zone. They already hold 120,000 people. The military have told aid agencies to expect another 50,000 refugees in the next few days. The new arrivals are the people who were held on the beach by the Tamil Tiger rebels until their defeat on Sunday.