UN seeks funds to help civilians who fled Sri Lanka war-zone

April 23rd, 2009 - 8:33 pm ICT by IANS  

By P. Karunakharan
Colombo, April 23 (IANS) With over 103,000 Tamil civilians fleeing Sri Lanka’s war-zone in the north, the UN Thursday made an urgent appeal for funds to meet the critical needs of the “crowds of weary and hungry people”.

The UN’s Humanitarian Coordinator in Sri Lanka Neil Buhne made the appeal Thursday after returning from camps in the northern town of Vavuniya where about 80,000 exhausted civilians who fled the combat zone are being housed.

“I saw infants with dysentery, malnourished children and women, untended wounds, and people dressed in the ragged clothing they’ve been wearing for months,” Neil Buhne said.

“We need funds for all the basics like food, medicine, water, sanitation, nutrition, shelter, and clothing. And we want to try to get kids as soon as possible back into school in order to give them some semblance of normality,” he said in a statement.

The UN in February appealed for $155 million to meet the anticipated increase in people escaping from the fighting in the island’s north, but received less than one third of that amount.

Since Monday, over 103,000 people have escaped the battle zone where government and Tamil Tigers are locked in fierce fighting. The sudden exodus has stretched humanitarian and government resources.

“Many of these people were forced from their homes by fighting more than a year ago, and it is something of a miracle that they have survived such a terrible ordeal,” said Buhne.

“We need to ensure that no more lives are lost by meeting their immediate needs, and beyond that to help them get back on their feet, so that they can eventually return to their homes,” he said.

The UN statement said that over-crowding in the (refugee) camps “is now a grave concern, and has urged the government to make available more land and public buildings for accommodation and to quickly identify and release people from the existing sites who present no security threat”.

Buhne said that while some elderly have been released, “there are many more people such as the elderly, disabled, unaccompanied children and pregnant women who could be rapidly identified and released in order to reduce the camp population”.

“The UN has also urged the government to release UN national staff so that they can return to work,” the statement went on to say.

Sri Lanka has also made a simultaneous appeal for international assistance to provide immediate humanitarian assistance for over 103,000 civilians, saying the challenge before the government today is to provide shelter and other basic amenities for them.

Hailing the security forces for successfully carrying out “the largest hostage rescue operation by any military in the world”, Sri Lanka’s Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama Thursday said that an estimated 15,000-20,000 civilians are still trapped in the no-fire-zone under the control of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.

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