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280,000 displaced civilians living in poor conditions in Lanka

world Updated: May 21, 2009 13:01 IST
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The number of displaced civilians in Sri Lanka's north has reached 280,000 with up to 80,000 people escaping from the conflict zone in the last three days alone, the United Nations refugee agency has said, seeking "urgent attention" to mitigate their plight.

Expressing concern over condition in the camps set up for people displaced by recent fighting in Sri Lanka, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said some 230,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) have been screened and registered and are currently accommodated in 41 sites spread across four districts.

Another 50,000 people are undergoing screening and registration at various points and awaiting transportation to the sites, UNCHR spokesperson, Ron Redmond, said while emphsaising the need for "urgent attention" on relief operations.

"As the fighting in north-east Sri Lanka comes to an end, the scale of the challenges facing UNHCR and other humanitarian agencies on the ground become more apparent," Redmond told reporters.

According to UNHCR estimates, up to 80,000 people have left the conflict zone in the last three days alone, bringing the total number of those displaced in last several months to 280,000.

Civilians coming out of the conflict zone are reported to be sick, hungry, and suffering from acute malnourishment and dehydration. In addition, conditions at Omanthai school, where screening and registration takes place, have been described as "sub-standard in terms of hygiene, health and shelter," the UNCHR said.

Earlier this week, the Sri Lankan government declared that its military operation against LTTE had ended, and that the remaining civilians that were trapped in the conflict zone in the country's north-east had left.

"This latest massive influx of people, who have endured extreme conditions, will put an even greater strain on the IDP sites in Vavuniya, Jaffna and Trincomalee, which are already buckling under the pressure of the existing population," said Redmond.

"There are several issues that need urgent attention, including overcrowding and the limited services available at the camps," he added.

UNHCR is supporting the government to address these problems by building 10,000 additional shelters.

At the same time, UNHCR is expressing concern that restrictions imposed by the authorities are hindering the agency’s access and ability to deliver humanitarian assistance to needy civilians, especially in the district Vavuniya.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is slated to visit Sri Lanka tomorrow to get a first-hand look at the situation on the ground.