You may not have heard about it, but there’s a humanitarian crisis in Sri Lanka right now – over 250,000 civilians are trapped in the war zone between the Sri Lankan Army and the rebel Tamil Tigers and can’t escape. The army has been steadily encroaching on the Tigers’ territory over recent months. The civilians caught in the area are running out of safe space. They can’t simply leave the war zone due to restrictions imposed by the Tigers, who are also using them as an involuntary pool of recruits and laborers. The civilians are also facing tremendous shortages of food and shelter, aggravated by the fact that many of them have already sold most of their possessions due to earlier displacements. For its part, the Sri Lankan government has restricted the ability of outside agencies to provide assistance to the civilians. While the government has made assurances that the humanitarian situation is under control, there’s evidence to suggest that the authorities lack the capacity to provide the needed aid to the people. An aid mission visited the area at the end of 2008 and noted the increased vulnerability of the civilian population, including reduced available materials to address urgent needs for shelter and sanitation.
Last November, AI drew attention to acute food and shelter shortages affecting the civilians in the war zone and produced a video on the issue.
Please raise your voice for the suffering civilians trapped between the two sides. Send an email to the Tamil Tigers. Ask them to allow the civilians trapped in the war zone to leave safely without any restrictions; ask that the Tigers also stop forcing civilians to join their ranks or work as laborers for them. Also, send an email to President Mahinda Rajapaksa and Ambassador Jaliya Wickramasuriya. Ask them to allow international monitors into the war zone to assess the humanitarian needs of the civilian population and to ensure proper distribution of food and other assistance to the people.
Sri Lanka Country Specialist