ICRC suspends operations, UN calls for access

[TamilNet, Thursday, 21 May 2009, 10:02 GMT]
International aid agencies have called for greater access to the camps in which hundreds of thousands of Tamil civilians are being held, even as the Sri Lankan government’s restrictions led to the ICRC suspending its operations. The UN and ICRC have expressed concern about the fate of people newly arriving at the camps, which are already over-stretched and over-crowded.

Citing the difficulties caused by “additional restrictions” placed upon it by the Sri Lanka government, the ICRC announced Wednesday that it had suspended its aid operations in Sri Lanka.

"Since last weekend there have been additional restrictions imposed on aid organisations, including the ICRC," Paul Castella, the head of the group's Sri Lanka operations, told Al Jazeera.

"The authorities have said that because of security they had to restrict access to certain areas,” he said. “What is the take of these civilians and what the conditions are we don't know because we are not granted access to the area."

“Restrictions have led to a temporary standstill in the distribution of aid” to the main camp holding 130,000 people, Monica Zanarelli, deputy head of operations in South Asia for the International Committee of the Red Cross, said on the ICRC’s Web site.

Until last weekend, the ICRC had delivered water, food, personal hygiene kits, baby-care parcels, emergency household items and kitchen utensils to the camp, known as Menik Farm, in the country's north, which housed more than 130,000 refugees, Zanarelli said on the Red Cross website.

“The ICRC is not in a position to provide figures or even to know whether all casualties are receiving the care they require,” Zanarelli said.

Restrictions on access are “having a severe effect on the thousands of newly arrived displaced people. The ICRC and other humanitarian aid agencies deplore this unacceptable situation,” she said.

Meanwhile, the United Nations has also called on the Sri Lankan government to allow unrestricted access to refugee camps near the former conflict zone.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) also reiterated calls for more assistance, citing the lack of services available for aid workers assisting the refugees who have left the former conflict zones.

"There are several issues that need urgent attention, including overcrowding and the limited services available at the camps,'' said Ron Redmond, the UNHCR spokesman.

"Civilians coming out of the conflict zone are sick, hungry and suffering from acute malnourishment and dehydration,'' he said in Geneva.

Redmond said he did not know why the authorities were blocking access to the camps.

"It's urgent that assistance gets into those camps and that we are able to deliver. We've got lots of humanitarian supplies that need to be delivered," he told the briefing.

“The latest massive influx of people, who have endured extreme conditions, will put an even greater strain on the internally displaced people sites in Vavuniya, Jaffna and Trincomalee,” he said.

The UNHCR is concerned about government restrictions that are hindering the agency’s access and delivery of aid supplies, particularly in Vavuniya district, the UN said on its Web site.

"We need to have access, I repeat, total access, without the least let or hindrance, for the UN, for NGOs and for the Red Cross," Elisabeth Byrs, spokeswoman for the U.N. Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs, told a news briefing.

Byrs said NGOs (non-governmental organisations) were encountering difficulties getting into camps for displaced people, even though the military authorities in the Jaffna region had promised them total access.

 

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