accessibility & help

Humanitarian access to Sri Lanka blocked

15 May 2009

Group of people sitting on dirt groundREUTERS/Stringer Courtesy www.alertnet.orgIn north-eastern Sri Lanka, hundreds of seriously wounded or ill patients blocked in the conflict area have been waiting in vain for several days for desperately needed medical care.

For the third consecutive day, a ferry chartered by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and anchoring only a few kilometres away from the patients has been unable to evacuate them because of continuous heavy fighting.

"Our staff are witnessing an unimaginable humanitarian catastrophe," said Pierre Krähenbühl, ICRC director of operations. "Despite high-level assurances, the lack of security on the ground means that our sea operations continue to be stalled, and this is unacceptable. No humanitarian organisation can help them in the current circumstances. People are left to their own devices."

Civilians trapped

Thousands of people remain trapped in a small area along the coast within the conflict zone. As fighting goes on unabated, civilians are forced to seek protection in hand-dug bunkers, making it even more difficult to fetch scarce drinking water and food.

"We need security and unimpeded access now in order to save hundreds of lives," said Pierre. "The ICRC stands ready to carry out its humanitarian work as soon as conditions permit."

An ICRC ferry, the Green Ocean, is carrying 25 metric tonnes of urgently needed food. The last time the ICRC could offload food and medical supplies and evacuate patients was 9 May. In addition to the ferry, a cargo ship, the Oriental Princess, carrying another 500 metric tonnes of food from the World Food Programme, is waiting off the coast north of Mullaittivu, ready to deliver the food to civilians.

British Red Cross support

Ros Armitage, British Red Cross operations manager, said: “The British Red Cross is extremely concerned about the situation and we’ve donated £150,000 from our Disaster Fund to the ICRC, to buy around 4,200 emergency household kits for people displaced by the conflict.

“We currently have two delegates working with the ICRC in Sri Lanka and we remain ready to provide additional help to the ICRC if needed.”

Find out about other current emergencies

A contribution from our Disaster Fund has been made in response to this crisis. Donations to the Disaster Fund will not be used directly in response to this conflict but will be used in response to other emergencies in the future and the British Red Cross is prepared to make a further contribution from the Disaster Fund in response to this serious situation if required.