Sri Lanka: Growing concern for trapped civilians, ACT mobilises response

As displaced Sri Lankans struggle to find safety from the ongoing conflict in the northeastern part of the country, ACT International members are mobilising emergency assistance to meet the needs of affected people. The National Christian Council of Sri Lanka (NCCSL), a member of ACT, reports that internally displaced persons are fleeing into government-controlled areas in the northern part of the country. NCCSL added, "People are traveling on foot carrying nothing but their children."

GENEVA, 30 January 2009--As displaced Sri Lankans struggle to find safety from the ongoing conflict in the northeastern part of the country, ACT International members are mobilising emergency assistance to meet the needs of affected people.

The National Christian Council of Sri Lanka (NCCSL), a member of ACT, reports that internally displaced persons are fleeing into government-controlled areas in the northern part of the country. NCCSL added, "People are traveling on foot carrying nothing but their children."

NCCSL member churches and organisations have met with displaced persons to begin assessing immediate needs. Initial reports indicate that some displaced families have not received adequate support and state authorities in some areas have approached the churches to assist in meeting the needs of those affected. NCCSL is currently planning for an initial three-month response to deliver basic food rations and non-food items.

Civilians trapped
With the humanitarian situation worsening, there is great concern for civilians caught in an intensification of hostilities between the government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). The government has taken control of almost the entire area formerly controlled by the LTTE with a military squeeze on a remaining 300 square km (115 sq miles) in the northeast of the country. Reports are growing of death and injury to civilians trapped in the area while other displaced people are moving into surrounding areas.

In a recent statement, the NCCSL has appealed to the government and the LTTE to create safe passage for civilians to move to safer places, and welcomes the government's declaration of a safe zone last week within the LTTE-held area for the protection of civilians.

The statement added, "We call upon the LTTE to allow the civilians trapped in Vanni to make to maximum use of this opportunity to save their lives. At the same time we call upon the government of Sri Lanka to facilitate the presence of independent bodies, religious leaders, professionals and relief workers to enhance the goodwill of the State."

At the same time, ACT International has received reports from a local church of aerial bombardments on 28 January within the declared safe zone that resulted in 40 civilians being injured including the pastor and three children from the church orphanage while they were taking shelter on the church premises.

ACT mobilises response
According to the UN Refugee Agency, there are approximately 230,000 displaced civilians in the northern part of the country. However, the Consortium of Humanitarian Agencies in Sri Lanka reports that more than 300,000 people are displaced. The difference in figures highlights the difficulty to accurately assess the situation and deliver urgently needed assistance.

An NCCSL coordination committee is operating from Colombo and local coordination teams will be set up in the regions to support a planned three-month response. ACT members, Norwegian Church Aid and Christian Aid, are exploring possibilities for funding and support to local partners.

In its recent statement, NCCSL said, "As a faith community we believe that human life is sacred, the dignity of which we need to preserve always. Therefore every human being should have the freedom to choose, to express views along with the freedom of movement."

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Action by Churches Together (ACT) International is a global alliance of churches and related agencies working to save lives and support communities in emergencies worldwide.

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