265,000 people fled Sri Lanka conflict zone, says UN

May 19th, 2009 - 12:33 am ICT by IANS  

Geneva, May 18 (DPA) The UN refugee agency said Monday that 265,000 people have fled the conflict zone in northeastern Sri Lanka in the last several months.
UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) spokesman Ron Redmond said the refugees had “endured extreme conditions” in the conflict zone, a tiny strip of land that was controlled by the Tamil Tiger rebels. The area had constantly shrunk as government forces moved in closer.

The mass influx of displaced people will place a greater strain on camps that were “already buckling under the pressure” of the existing population, Redmond said.

UNHCR was expecting tens of thousands more displaced people to arrive in the upcoming days.

The agency said it was experiencing a decrease in access in recent days not only to the conflict zone but also to the camps.

UN and International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) officials say a shipment of food has not made it into the conflict area since May 9.

The displaced were arriving at camps “sick, hungry and suffering from acute malnutrition”, Redmond said.

Meanwhile, the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said many refugees that were arriving had serious medical conditions, adding that medical aid was also blocked from entering the conflict area.

Independent verifications of what has gone on inside the strip has been nearly impossible as the government prevented journalists and aid workers from entering the zone.

Aid agencies also said that they have lost contact with some of their local staff who were inside the area.

“Our own colleagues had to protect themselves in trenches,” a ICRC official said, describing times of heavy shelling.

Three of the ICRC’s staff have been killed there this year.

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