"Let civilians flee, allow relief through" - UNHCR

[TamilNet, Sunday, 20 August 2006, 13:36 GMT]
"Some 15,000 to 20,000 people are now displaced in the Killinochchi area as a result of repeated [Sri Lankan] artillery shelling and air strikes," the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, said this week. Calling on the Colombo government and the Liberation Tigers "to urgently allow aid workers free access to all parts of the island so that vital supplies can reach those cut off by fighting," UNHCR appealed for them "to permit freedom of movement to all civilians displaced by their conflict." Since April UNHCR says 162,000 people have become internally displaced, while 7,439 have become refugees in Tamil Nadu.

Humanitarian agencies in Kilinochchi are targeting their help to those displaced people – some 9,500 individuals – living outdoors under trees, or in communal buildings, the UNHCR said in a statement from its Geneva headquarters.

"We and our partners are now seriously concerned about the welfare of civilians in areas inaccessible to humanitarian agencies because of strictly enforced travel restrictions, as fighting continues in the north and east of Sri Lanka," UNHCR spokesperson Jennifer Pagonis told journalists in Geneva.

After the main access road to the Jaffna peninsula through the LTTE-controlled Killinochchi district was closed, supplies of food and water have fallen to what Pagonis described as "alarmingly low levels" in many locations. "As a result, people are hoarding food, and merchants are sharply hiking prices in local markets," she added.

"Unfortunately, we have limited stock [in LTTE-controlled Kilinochchi] and are not sure when new stock will arrive because of restrictions on road transport," said Pagonis.

The UNHCR’s appeal for civilians to have freedom of movement to escape fighting comes amid numerous reports from Jaffna that Sri Lankan troops in areas being targeted by LTTE artillery are blocking civilians trying to move to safer areas of the peninsula.

The situation in Point Pedro, in the north of the Jaffna peninsula, is even more fluid and unpredictable than in Jaffna town. Displaced civilians in Point Pedro are staying in vacant homes and with host families, and UNHCR and its partners fear they may not have adequate electricity, water and sanitary facilities.

"Eastern districts face a similar crisis," Pagonis said. "Thousands of displaced families in Muttur and Eachchilampattu divisions of Trincomalee district, and Vaharai division in Batticaloa district, are in desperate need of sustained humanitarian relief."

"We have gained limited access to Vaharai," Pagonis said, referring an area of Batticaloa receiving many thousands of displaced people from neighbouring Trincomalee.

Since fighting began to flare up in Sri Lanka in April, UNHCR has recorded 162,000 Sri Lankans who have fled their homes but remain within the country, as well as 7,439 who have crossed the Palk Strait to become refugees in southern India's Tamil Nadu state.

 

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