The IRC Responds to Critical Needs in War-torn Sri Lanka
Amid growing fears of a humanitarian disaster, the IRC is preparing to launch programs that will help aid thousands of displaced Tamils in government-controlled camps in northern Sri Lanka.
This past weekend Gordon Bacon, the IRC's representative in Sri Lanka, assessed conditions at the Menik Farm camp near the town of Vavuniya, where approximately 100,000 people have sought shelter. Some of the displaced, who have fled recent fighting between the Sri Lankan army and the Tamil Tiger rebel group, are living under tents and tarpaulins in sweltering, unsanitary conditions. Some 40,000 recent arrivals, however, are living in the open due to a lack of material for shelter.
"As I entered the camp I saw many thousands of people sitting on the ground," Bacon said. "Most were trying to shelter from the sun under the large trees that had not been cleared away. Some had tried to erect crude shelters with bits of cloth and branches from the smaller trees that had been cleared."
"The people had a look of utter despair but for the first time in months, or maybe years, they knew they were safe and about to receive help,' Bacon added.
In response to the unfolding crisis, the IRC will be working with Sewalanka, a Sri Lankan aid group, to distribute emergency food rations. The Dutch refugee foundation Stichting Vluchteling is funding the effort.
"We also plan to build shelters and install water and sanitation facilities," Bacon said.
Over 150,000 displaced people have arrived in the Vavuniya district since a military offensive sparked a mass exodus of trapped civilians from the war zone in the northern part of the country earlier this month. Bacon said that Sri Lanka is facing a massive humanitarian crisis. More displaced people are expected to arrive in the Vavuniya area soon; according to the United Nations some 50,000 civilians remain trapped in the war zone some 65 kilometers from Vavuniya town.
The Tamil Tigers, also known as the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, have been fighting for an independent homeland for Sri Lanka's Tamil minority since 1983. More than 70,000 people have been killed in the war, a figure likely to climb due to the intensified fighting of recent weeks. The crisis in Vavuniya started earlier this month as the government army prepared a final offensive against the cornered rebels. The crisis has sparked international calls for a ceasefire amid growing concern for civilians trapped in the war zone.
"It is clear that displaced people will need help for quite some time, Bacon said. "It will take a lot of effort and money to help these people who have gone through so much suffering over the years.