Grave concerns over conditions for civilians who escaped Sri Lanka’s war zone

“These people are extremely traumatized. Many have lost family in the fighting or become separated as they escaped. They are innocent civilians caught up in this conflict.”
David White
Oxfam’s Acting Country Director
Published: 18 May 2009

Traumatized, exhausted and half-starved civilians who have fled Sri Lanka’s conflict zone are being housed in camps without decent water and sanitation facilities and with inadequate food supplies, international aid agency Oxfam said today.

The agency urged the Sri Lankan government to do all it can improve the situation in the camps around Vavuniya, in the north of the country.

Oxfam has rapidly expanded its work in Sri Lanka and is now providing water and sanitation to over 100,000 people and is preparing to assist a further  40,000.  Almost 200,000 people have escaped the war zone since January and a further 60,000 are on their way says the UN.

Aid agencies are struggling to play catch-up after a second influx in a month of thousands of displaced people from the conflict zone. Most are exhausted and half- starved after a gruelling three-month siege which cost over 6,000 civilian lives, according to the UN.

David White, Oxfam’s acting Country Director, said: “Oxfam is very concerned about conditions in the camps. It’s been a race against time to get water  and sanitation services up and running, and we’re worried that people are not getting enough clean water. There are problems with providing food and  shelter to the displaced people.

“Now the end of the fighting has led to a massive influx of new people, and we are worried that the camps will not be able to cope.

“These people are extremely traumatized. Many have lost family in the fighting or become separated as they escaped. They are innocent civilians caught up in this conflict.

“The Sri Lankan government must work with aid agencies and the international community to make sure the camps are of a decent standard so the  displaced people get the help they urgently need.

“In the longer term, the government of Sri Lanka must work towards letting the displaced people return home as soon as possible. They must not be  allowed to fester in these camps for years, and instead be housed with relatives or friends as soon as possible.”

In addition to the camps being brought into line with international standards, Oxfam says independent observers such as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees or the International Committee for the Red Cross must witness the screening process which separate any remaining Tamil  Tiger fighters from civilians.