Oxfam International aids thousands displaced by Sri Lankan conflict

Published: 24th April 2009

Trapped civilians facing catastrophe need humanitarian pause urgently.

Oxfam International is now providing emergency relief to over 36,000 civilians who have fled fighting between Sri Lankan troops and LTTE rebels in the past few days, amid fears for thousands more women, men and children trapped behind rebel lines and exposed to deadly dangers from the constant clashes.Working closely with Sri Lankan partner organizations, Oxfam is providing primarily clean water, sanitation and public health assistance to families arriving in government-controlled areas, as well as cooked food and other essential relief items. Plans are in place to assist up to 60,000 more. However, over 50,000 civilians may still remain trapped in a small, heavily crowded rebel-held enclave in northeast Sri Lanka, where humanitarian conditions are now catastrophic. Hundreds have been killed or injured in the past few days. Children are dying of untreated wounds as well as a lack of clean water and unhygienic conditions. Both sides must pause in their battle to allow trapped civilians to leave safely and for humanitarian workers to reach the sick and wounded, said Oxfam. “For each day that passes without at least pause in fighting, civilian families are paying with their lives,” said Joan Summers, Oxfam Country Director in Sri Lanka. Oxfam calls on both parties to the conflict to fulfill their obligations under international humanitarian law by permitting safe civilian evacuations and humanitarian access, respecting the lives and neutrality of all non-combatants. Oxfam urges the Sri Lankan government to fulfill its obligations under national laws and international humanitarian law by ensuring the humanitarian relief effort is increased rapidly and significantly, allowing both national and international aid workers safe and unhindered access to affected families. Oxfam also urges the international community to help affected civilians by pressing for a humanitarian pause in the fighting by and supporting efforts to provide the 250-300,000 Sri Lankans displaced by the war with both adequate emergency relief and longer term recovery assistance. Oxfam has been working closely with local partners to provide safe drinking water, sanitation facilities such as latrines and hygiene kits, emergency shelter, and other essential items to thousands of displaced civilians. Our relief activities have been targeting the most vulnerable civilians such as women and children.

For each day that passes without at least pause in fighting, civilian families are paying with their lives
Joan Summers
Oxfam Country Director, Sri Lanka

Notes to editors

Notes for editors: Although figures cannot yet be confirmed, estimates of 50,000-100,000 civilians trapped in the LTTE-held enclave in Mullaitivu are calculated from previous field reports, estimates of the number who have left the area, and from satellite imagery. The Sri Lankan government estimates the remaining number of civilians trapped in Mullaitivu at around 15,000.