Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka: As rains arrive, ICRC steps up help for civilians fleeing conflict in the Vanni

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Tens of thousands of civilians from the Vanni remain displaced after fleeing fighting between government security forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

"Security and stability are a pressing concern for displaced people in the Vanni. Many of them have had to flee several times since hostilities escalated in July", said Hicham Mandoudi, head of ICRC operations in the Vanni. "What these displaced people want is a place where they can stabilize their lives. They're exhausted after moving from one place to another, each time leaving behind more of their belongings."

The ICRC is still the only international humanitarian organization permanently present in the Vanni, where the organization operates with the agreement of both the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE.

While food, sanitation and clean water remain the priorities for these people, the monsoon rains have brought a greater need for shelter. During October, the ICRC went some way towards meeting those needs by providing over 750 emergency shelters in Mullaitivu and Kilinochchi districts. The organization was able to provide shelter not only for displaced families but also for relocated health facilities such as that in Oddusuddan, Mullaitivu district.

Vanni health care facilities continue to provide basic health care, even though many have had to relocate along with the people they serve. At least 15 displaced people caught malaria during October, and the ICRC and health authorities remain on the alert for further outbreaks of malaria and other mosquito-transmitted diseases, which could become more prevalent as the rainy season arrives in the Vanni. In October, the ICRC distributed 8,850 mosquito nets, including special nets for babies, to displaced families in Puthukudiyurupu, Maritemapattu, Oddusuddan, Karachchi and Kandawalai to reduce the risk of these diseases.

The ICRC continues to facilitate the passage of food convoys through the Omanthai checkpoint between government-held and LTTE-held territory (see below for further details). Food aid passes through this checkpoint en route to displaced people, most of whom have settled temporarily in Mullaitivu district, west of Puthukudiyurupu. During October, the ICRC worked closely with the Sri Lanka Red Cross Society to distribute aid to nearly 78,400 displaced people in the Vanni. Supplies included more than 8,500 sets of hygiene items, 2,500 baby-care parcels, 1,000 jerrycans, 580 sets of kitchen items, nearly 6,700 parcels containing bed linen, towels and sleeping mats and just under 18,000 tarpaulins.

The Indian government has approached the ICRC regarding delivery of humanitarian assistance to civilians in the Vanni. The items the Indian government has offered include hygiene material and clothes, and correspond to the needs of displaced people and residents in the Vanni that the ICRC has identified. "This is the first time that India has provided humanitarian aid to conflict-affected people in Sri Lanka through the ICRC. We have seen the relief items and they do indeed correspond to the needs of the displaced people we see in the Vanni. We look forward to receiving this relief consignment here in Colombo in the coming days," said Paul Castella, the ICRC's new Head of Delegation in Sri Lanka.

Serving as a neutral intermediary at Omanthai crossing point

In its role of neutral intermediary, the ICRC was present at Omanthai crossing point six days a week during October, facilitating the passage of civilians and vehicles between government-held and LTTE-held areas. ICRC staff facilitated the passage of more than 10,000 civilians and nearly 1,445 vehicles. Over 80 ambulances carrying 535 patients made the crossing during the same period. The ICRC requests security assurances from both the Sri Lanka Army and the LTTE on behalf of the health authorities, allowing ambulances to cross any day of the week.

ICRC staff transported the bodies of 58 fallen fighters across Omanthai crossing point during October. To improve the conservation of bodies awaiting transfer, the ICRC replaced the refrigeration units of health facilities and renovated the autopsy room at Padaviya hospital.

Protecting civilians and people held in connection with the conflict

The ICRC continues to monitor violations of international humanitarian law affecting civilians throughout the country. The organization continued to collect allegations regarding missing persons, arbitrary arrests, unlawful killings and ill treatment of civilians during October. To protect the people reporting such violations, discussions between ICRC staff and the parties to the conflict remain strictly confidential.

Recent months have seen an increase in the number of people arrested in connection with the conflict. With the approval of government officials and the LTTE, the ICRC visits such people to monitor their treatment and conditions of detention. In October, ICRC delegates carried out 70 visits to 62 government places of detention, during which they spoke in private with over 640 security detainees. During the same period, ICRC staff visited five members of government security forces detained by the LTTE.

The ICRC covered the travel costs of the families of more than 400 detainees, enabling them to visit their relatives in various places of detention. The organization also paid for nearly 50 released detainees to return home by public transport.

Restoring family links with Red Cross messages

The ICRC has been cooperating closely with the Sri Lanka Red Cross Society to help families separated by the conflict restore and maintain contact using Red Cross messages. In October, the ICRC collected or distributed 740 of these messages.

In October, the ICRC also:

improved access to health care

- Nearly 80 patients requiring specialized medical care, accompanied by 60 caregivers, took ICRC-chartered flights between Jaffna and Colombo.

- More than 100 patients benefited from the services of the ICRC-supported Jaffna Jaipur Centre for Disability Rehabilitation.

assisted displaced people and returnees

Vavuniya district

Over 1,000 displaced people staying with host families and in the camps received relief items, including mosquito nets, personal hygiene kits, baby-care parcels and kitchen utensils.

Batticaloa district

- More than 2,600 returnees received baby-care parcels, mosquito nets, 235 food parcels, nearly 480 personal hygiene kits and over 850 sets of kitchen utensils and other household essentials.

- Distributed 120 tonnes of seed paddy to 2,215 farming families, plus over 100 tonnes of fertilizer and a variety of farming implements.

Jaffna district

Close to 4,300 residents received personal hygiene kits and baby-care parcels.

Trincomalee district

Over 1,800 returnees between them received 75 baby-care parcels, 480 personal hygiene kits and more than 1,300 tarpaulins and metal buckets.

improved living conditions and access to water

Kilinochchi/Mullaitivu districts

Provided shelter for more than 750 displaced families in Kandavalai, Maritemapattu, and Puthukudiyurupu, by installing family tents or constructing wood and tarpaulin shelters.

Vavuniya district

A total of 127 families at the Musali site for internally displaced people received tarpaulins, rope and nails with which to build temporary shelters.

Ampara district

Cleaned and repaired three wells in Bakmitiyawa and Kannagiramam for use by the resident population.

Batticaloa district

Distributed 44 tarpaulins and 30 timber-frame shelters to returnees in Muruththanai and Periyapullumalai.

Jaffna district

Repaired toilets and constructed a septic tank at the Krishnan Kovil Welfare Centre.

Trincomalee district

Completed most of the 76 shelters for returnees in Sumedankarapura.

enhanced respect for international humanitarian law

As part of its efforts to increase respect for international humanitarian law, the ICRC conducted more than 20 information sessions for almost 1,200 civilians and members of the government security forces.

provided support for the Sri Lanka Red Cross Society (SLRCS)

- Supported the SLRCS night ambulance service in Vavuniya and Jaffna districts, which transfers emergency cases to the hospital during curfews.

- Supported the mobile health service run by the Vavuniya branch of the SLRCS.

For further information, please contact:

Sarasi Wijeratne, ICRC Colombo, tel. +94 11 250 33 46 or +94 773 1588 44
Aleksandra Matijevic, ICRC Colombo, tel. + 94 11 250 33 46 or + 94 777 289 682
Carla Haddad Mardini, ICRC Geneva, tel. +41 22 730 2405 or +41 79 217 3226
Simon Schorno, ICRC Geneva, tel. +41 79 251 9302