The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has been forced to suspend the distribution of emergency supplies to as many as 300,000 people displaced by the Sri Lankan Army’s victory over the Tamil Tigers after the Government blocked access to aid camps.
Fears have been growing over the welfare of those forced to flee the conflict zone — many of whom are sick or suffering from battlefield injuries — after tight restrictions were placed on the U.N. and other agencies trying to administer aid.
Urgently needed supplies of food and clothing had been suspended after access to the camps was restricted by the government, an ICRC spokesperson told The Times Wednesday morning.
The ICRC had been the only neutral aid organization allowed inside the conflict zone. It had between 20 and 25 staff on the ground in the northeastern region where the Tigers made their last stand over the weekend but has not heard from them since last week.
The blocking of access to the battle zone has raised fears for the fate of those civilians too sick or injured to flee the area by foot.
Those who escaped had to wade through a mine-strewn lagoon, journeying several days to reach camps that are struggling to cope.
Accounts of conditions inside the camps — gained from testimony recorded covertly by aid workers — and the journey to them are horrifying.
Preema, a Tamil woman, arrived at the 990-acre Menic farm camp on Sunday. She had left Mullaivaikal, the center of the fighting where the Tigers made their final stand, after being shelled heavily.
She set out with her husband, mother and two children, to wade through the Nandikadal lagoon — a waterway strewn with mines — in a desperate attempt to reach safety.
There were deep craters where the lagoon had been bombed and people often drowned, she said. Her mother died in the lagoon. A man offered to carry her 10-year-old daughter. Preema never saw them again. Her husband was taken away by government troops after admitting that he had worked for the Tigers. He was stopped at a checkpoint in Oomanthai where refugees are being forced to strip before being allowed to pass.
“Everything is lost,” said Preema, holding her seven-year-old son. “Please help me find my daughter. Not knowing anything is making me crazy.”
Government officials did not answer requests for comment. Access for aid agencies to another 200,000 refugees already in the internment camps — which the government call “welfare villages” — has been severely restricted since Sunday, preventing the administration of basic care.
Ban Ki Moon, the U.N. Secretary-General, is due to travel in Sri Lanka on Friday to offer help to rebuild the ravaged northeast of the country and urge the Government to reach out to the Tamil population.