U.N. aid agencies say they are being denied access to some camps for displaced people in northern Sri Lanka, hindering their ability to help Tamil civilians displaced by the recent fighting between government troops and Tamil Tiger rebels.
The U.N. refugee agency says the number of civilians who have fled the fighting in northern Sri Lanka over the last few months has now reached 280,000. This includes an estimated 80,000 people who have left the former combat zone in the last three days.
The U.N. refugee agency says it has put up 25,000 emergency shelters. And it is putting up an additional 10,000 to accommodate the tens of thousands of civilians who have left the combat zone and are expected to arrive seeking shelter in the coming days.
UNHCR Spokesman, Ron Redmond, says the most immediate priority is to support the government in creating more space in the overcrowded camps to deliver essential services.
"Efforts, however, are being hampered by the sheer numbers of internally displaced, by the speed at which they have been arriving and the limited space that is available to accommodate them," said Ron Redmond. "In addition, the restrictions to enter the IDP sites imposed by the authorities over the weekend are hindering UNHCR's ability to deliver assistance to the IDP sites."
Redmond says the government has not explained to his agency why it is limiting access to the displacement sites.
"But, from UNHCR's point of view anyway and I am sure from the UN point of view, it is urgent that assistance get into those camps and that we be able to deliver," he said. "We have got lots of supplies, humanitarian supplies that need to be delivered and we can certainly help with other areas of concern inside those camps."
Redmond describes the civilians coming out of the conflict zone as being sick, hungry and suffering from acute malnourishment and dehydration. He says the hygiene, health and shelter conditions at a school, where new arrivals are being screened and registered are sub-standard.
He says this latest massive influx of people, who have endured extreme conditions, will put an even greater strain on the sites. And, they, he says, are already buckling under the pressure of the existing population.