Sri Lanka

UNHCR concerned about deepening emergency in Sri Lanka

This is a summary of what was said by the UNHCR spokesperson at today's Palais des Nations press briefing in Geneva. Further information can be found on the UNHCR websites, www.unhcr.org and www.unhcr.fr, which should also be checked for regular media updates on non-briefing days.

As tens of thousands of civilians continue to make their way out of the conflict zone, UNHCR is responding to the deepening emergency unfolding in Sri Lanka's north. So far, we have confirmed that some 160,000 people have been displaced by fighting into the government controlled areas, of which, more than 140,000 are being accommodated in 32 sites in Vavuniya, another 11,000 in Jaffna and some 5,000 in Trincomalee.

Yesterday, we began an aid airlift for displaced people in Sri Lanka with the first plane carrying almost 3,000 family-size tents from our stockpiles in Dubai. A second humanitarian flight, a Boeing 777 carrying 103 metric tons of aid, arrived early today in Colombo. So far, we have airlifted some 5,000 family tents and a large consignment of relief items. All these relief items will be transported for immediate distribution in the north, where UNHCR has already distributed tens of thousands of relief items.

We are also fielding more staff to carry out protection monitoring at the sites hosting displaced people. Together with our partners, we are putting up lightweight tents to increase the shelter capacity of these sites.

UNHCR staff on the ground report that the present situation in the north is critical. The conditions at the sites have reached breaking point, placing severe strains on the humanitarian services available. People without shelter are staying out in the open in the blazing sun and sweltering heat.

We have received persistent reports of physical assaults on men and women fleeing into government controlled areas. We are reminding the government of its responsibilities towards the civilian population and to ensure the protection of its own citizens. We urge that all necessary steps be taken to investigate these incidents and to bring those responsible to justice.

UNHCR is calling on the government to provide more resources to respond to the emergency and immediately make available all public buildings and viable land for the accommodation of the large number of civilians in desperate need of assistance.

We are also calling on the government to make immediate arrangements to separate ex-combatants from the civilian population and keep them in separate facilities where they can undergo rehabilitation in line with international standards.

High Commissioner António Guterres authorised the expenditure of an additional US$ 2 million for Sri Lankan operations. The additional funds will provide shelter, protection and other aid for civilians fleeing the conflict zone in the north. We are revising our current appeal for Sri Lanka, and increasing our budget for Sri Lankan internally displaced people to $16.6 million. Given the urgency of the situation, we hope that donors will give generously to UNHCR in order for us to continue assisting the thousands of people forced to flee their homes in Sri Lanka. Private contributions can be made through our website: http://www.unhcr.org/emergency

For further information on these topics, please contact: Sulakshani Perera, UNHCR Colombo, tel: + 94 112 268 3968 ext 390; mob: +94 777 272 494