Access to Displaced Tamils Better, But Still Limited

The U.N. refugee agency reports access to about 300,000 internally displaced Tamils in northern Sri Lanka is getting better, but remains limited.  The UNHCR says more access is needed to provide critical aid to the many people living in dire conditions in cramped camps. 

The U.N. refugee agency says about 300,000 internally displaced people are living in 40 emergency shelter sites spread across the districts of Vavuniya, Jaffna and Trincomalee.

Spokesman Ron Redmond says the UNHCR and partners are carrying out emergency shelter work, regular non-food distributions and protection monitoring to ensure people are receiving the help they need.

Still not adequate

He tells VOA there has been an improvement in access to the sites in the past week.  But, it still is not adequate considering the urgent needs that must be addressed.  He says emergency shelter, water and sanitation and medical assistance are the most pressing needs.

"Prior to fleeing, a large portion of the population already spent months living in squalid conditions with insufficient food, shelter, proper water and sanitation," said Redmond. "So, as a result, many of the displaced are already suffering from malnourishment and related medical conditions." 

"So, it is difficult to stabilize that situation when you have so many people turning up with so many different problems.  Due to the magnitude of the displacement, overcrowding is another issue that needs to be addressed urgently," he added.  

Working with government

Redmond says the UNHCR is working with the government and shelter agencies to identify additional land to assist people who  are jammed into every available living space in some of these sites.

He says his agency is asking the government to give people in the camps freedom of movement.  He says the UNHCR also is encouraging the government to complete screening as soon as possible and separate the ex-combatants, so the civilian population will be allowed to move freely in and out of the camps.

Redmond says the best way to help restore normalcy to peoples' lives is to get them home as soon as possible, as soon as conditions allow.

"This includes addressing security issues-de-mining and removal of unexploded ordnance," he said. "We have also got to do, what we call, village profile assessments, which helps to assess the level of damage.  There needs to be reconstruction of damaged homes.  There needs to be reconstruction of infrastructure if it has been damaged and that includes roads and public buildings." 

Redmond says livelihoods have to be developed, jobs have to be created and the civil administration has to be revived in the affected districts and provinces.  He notes a lot of work has to be done before people can really feel comfortable about going home, and staying home.

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