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Sri Lanka can no longer be ignored

The situation for trapped civilians in Sri Lanka is ‘becoming graver by the day’, says Christian Aid.  

An estimated 190,000 civilians remain trapped in the fighting, as food, medicine and fresh water supplies run dangerously low for those trying to flee to safety.

And the charity says the world must now sit up and take notice.

‘More than at any stage in the war it is the ordinary women, men and children who are bearing the brunt of the suffering’, says Robin Greenwood, head of Christian Aid's Asia and Middle East division.

Over 3,000 civilians are thought to have escaped severe fighting in the north over past few days.  In the past two weeks, more than 7,000 Tamil civilians have crossed into government controlled areas, according to official statistics, bringing to nearly 50,000 the number being housed at government transit camps in the northern districts of Mannar, Jaffna and Vavuniya since December. 

Christian Aid partners are responding as best as they can and delivering food and emergency supplies to internally displaced people (IDPs) in the area, but official access for aid workers remains severely limited.

Robin Greenwood continued: ‘We remain deeply concerned for the IDPs arriving in and being hosted in transit camps’.

He said: ‘Current government plans do not guarantee their protection and assistance. Providing effective relief and ensuring protection for the huge influx of IDPs will be critical over the coming months if a humanitarian crisis is to be avoided. Both the Government of Sri Lanka and LTTE must now fulfil their duty to protect civilians and permit unfettered and immediate humanitarian access for aid workers. And it must be done now.’   

On 21 March alone, more than 1,100 civilians, many of them children, fled the Putukkudiyiruppa area despite heavy artillery and mortar fire. On 22 March, another 890 escaped fighting overland in the same area, according to the Sri Lankan defence ministry.

Recent but as yet unconfirmed UN figures suggest that the number of people killed every day has doubled in the past five weeks. The UN puts the number of civilian casualties between January 20 and March 7 as 9,924 – 2,683 deaths and 7,241 injuries. 

Although those figures have been disputed by the Sri Lankan government.

Christian Aid say there is a danger the lack of credible information coming out of Sri Lanka, due to limited access for journalists and aid workers, will create international public apathy for the plight of the Sri Lanka’s trapped civilians

In line with the Geneva Conventions, Christian aid say there is urgent need for a temporary no fire period to permit safe evacuation of civilians and non-combatants and delivery of humanitarian aid.  All civilians must be granted freedom of movement.  

The charity is also concerned by reports that civilians have been fired upon as they tried to escape.

Robin Greenwood continued: ‘The Sri Lankan authorities and the international community must next work together to enable people affected by the conflict to enjoy a safe and decent way of life, and to resolve the underlying causes conflict.’

Christian Aid also says there must be action from the international community to put pressure on the Government of Sri Lanka and LTTE to stop targeting civilians, to open a humanitarian corridor, monitored by the United Nations (UN) and International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to facilitate the safe evacuation of civilians, and to give unhindered access to transport and supply urgently needed medical and relief supplies. 

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For more information or to arrange interviews with Robin Greenwood contact Nadene Ghouri on 07939 232816 or nghouri@christian-aid.org