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Sri Lanka: thousands of civilians still trapped

30-04-2009 Operational Update No 09/03

Thousands of civilians, including women, children and elderly people, many of them wounded and sick, remain trapped and at risk on a small area along the coast that had been declared a "no-fire zone" by the government.

Thousands of civilians still trapped and at risk inside the conflict area

" Given the catastrophic situation of thousands of displaced, sick and wounded people still in the conflict area, the parties must do more to protect them and must allow more food and medicine into the area, " said Monica Zanarelli, the ICRC's deputy head of operations for South Asia.

Since 10 February, the ICRC has evacuated close to 12,400 people – the sick and wounded and their accompanying relatives – from the conflict area by boat. The ICRC carried out its 28th evacuation on 29 April, with over 520 persons aboard the Green Ocean, an ICRC-chartered ferry.

The previous day, the ferry also brought over 30 tonnes of food donated to the Sri Lankan government by the World Food Programme into the conflict area. Further deliveries are expected in coming days.

Difficult conditions for tens of thousands who have left the conflict area

Tens of thousands of people have moved out of the conflict area in recent days; over 100,000 have passed through the Omanthai screening point alone. Those who have left the conflict area are transferred to transit sites.

" It is the responsibility of the authorities to ensure that all displaced people are safe and have access to food, medical care, clean water and sanitation. It is essential that families are rapidly reunited and allowed to return voluntarily to their homes as soon as conditions permit, " said Ms Zanarelli.

The displaced people are worried about their future and want to know how long they will have to stay away from ho me. Many family members have been separated from one another and are anxious to know the whereabouts of their relatives. " The ICRC has asked the authorities to clarify the time frame for lifting restrictions on movement imposed on the displaced population and to indicate when the resettlement process will begin, " said Ms Zanarelli.

The authorities have taken steps to restore links between separated family members by making available postal and telephone services and by starting to make arrangements for family visits to camps for displaced people. However, the requests of many families dispersed among different camps to be reunited, and many requests for information on the whereabouts of relatives, remain to be addressed. The ICRC has offered to help the authorities by providing tracing services.

The ICRC, together with its partners in the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, stands ready to address the urgent needs of displaced people. In recent days, the organization and its partners have installed water tanks and built latrines, and they are currently erecting over 1,800 tents for over 7,200 persons. These efforts are ongoing and are expected to continue in the coming days and weeks.

 
For further information, please contact:
  Sophie Romanens, ICRC Colombo, tel: +94 77 728 96 82
  Simon Schorno, ICRC Geneva, tel: +41 79 251 9302