ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday, March 25, 2007
Vol. 41 - No 43

Unceasing waves

By Nalaka Nonis

As the fighting between government forces and the LTTE escalates in the East, so does the flow of refugees, fleeing the affected areas.

As the displaced people seek refuge in temporary shelters aid organisations have warned against shortage of food and health problems.

According to the latest government estimates, more than 160,000 displaced people have taken refuge in 93 centres in various parts of the Batticaloa district out of which 24 are schools.

The World Food Programme Office in Colombo said the number of refugees that stood at 79,000 at the end of February has shot up to 160,000 now, demanding serious attention by the government and other aid organizations.

Besides refugees from Vakarai and Trincomalee areas, civilians from Thoppigala and adjoining areas have been leaving their homes in large numbers and taking shelter in refugee camps too.

According to aid agencies operating in refugee camps in Batticaloa, the refugees face two major problems-- shortage of food supplies and medicines.

The World Food Programme Office here has warned that food supplies are only sufficient till April and the Government should act immediately to find a remedy. According to their statistics WFP was supplying food to 100,000 displaced people while the government and other NGOs were looking into the needs of 55,000.

WFP also said they hadn’t received pledges for funds from donors for the provision of food for refugees after April although they had requested for more funds.

The overcrowding of refugee camps is also posing the threat of contagious diseases like measles especially among children.
A spokesman for the Batticaloa GA’s office told The Sunday Times that one of the main problems refugees face is the lack of drinking water.

“The present dry season has further aggravated the situation,” he said.

He also said lack of sanitation was a major hurdle and the number toilets in the camps was inadequate to cope with the increasing influx of refugees.

“The government together with aid agencies have been providing people with their basic needs but providing other needs including clothes is a problem,” he said. He also said children in the area are being deprived of education as 24 schools are housing some of the displaced people. He said practical difficulties were hindering them from relocating the refugees in other places.

Meanwhile highlighting another problem, Amnesty International has charged that some of the displaced people were being abducted by the Karuna group who have infiltrated the camps. The organisation has also voiced concern over reports that some of the displaced were being resettled against their will. The UNHCR also states that it has received reports that some of the refugees were being sent back to their villages in Vakarai and Trincomalee despite serious security concerns.

The government says they have resettled 3,357 families who were displaced by earlier military attacks in Vakarai, to make more room for refugees who are fleeing their homes due to the ongoing attacks in the East.

Resettlement and Disaster Relief Services Minister Abdul Risath Bathiyutheen said the government was taking steps to even relocate these displaced people but it is being hampered due to landmines buried in the vicinities.

He said his ministry together with the Ministry of Nation Building and NGOs were providing relief measures to the displaced. He also denied that the government was resettling people against their will. Mr. Bathiyutheen said his ministry had allocated Rs. 7 million for relief measures for the refugees in Batticoloa district and Rs. Two million for refugees in Trincomalee district.

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Copyright 2007 Wijeya Newspapers Ltd.Colombo. Sri Lanka.