Concern over Jaffna refugees

Place: Jaffna | Courtesy: BBC
| Date: 20000908

By: Alastair Lawson in Jaffna

Concern is growing over the plight of about 10,000 internally displaced people in Sri Lanka's northern Jaffna peninsula.

They have been forced to live in camps to escape heavy fighting earlier this year between the army and Tamil Tiger rebels.

Aid agencies say that conditions in some of these camps are unfit for long term habitation.

Some of the people living there, especially children, are said to be malnourished while sanitary conditions are poor.

Desperate

Aid agencies in the Jaffna peninsula say that roughly one fifth of the population of around half a million is internally displaced.

Fishing is not allowed for security reasons Many avoided moving into camps run by organisations such as the United Nations High Commission for Refugees by staying with friends or relatives, in and around Jaffna town.

However around 10,000 people, mostly farmers and fishermen, were forced to move into camps and it is this group who are giving aid agencies most cause for concern.

They are unemployed with little prospect in the immediate future of returning to their home and rely totally on help given by aid agencies and rations provided by the Sri Lankan Government.

Fishing in much of the area around the peninsular is not allowed due to security reasons, while farmers who have land that has not been affected by the war have difficulties in buying kerosene to operate water pumps.

'Open prison'

The hardships endured by displaced people are to some extent shared by the rest of the predominantly Tamil population of the Jaffna peninsula.

A Jaffna resident being searched It is estimated that only around 20% of the people living here have a stable income and even then their salary is not sufficient to cover the rising cost of living.

The Jaffna peninsula is being described by one aid worker as the largest open prison in the world because it's only accessible from government controlled areas by air and sea.

It can take months for local people to get permission to leave on ferries that are always overbooked.

Aid agencies say that some Canadian and European Tamils who arrived in the peninsular several months ago, are still waiting for an outward ticket.