CAFOD partners in Sri Lanka have offered to step in as negotiators between fighting forces in an attempt to avert an escalating humanitarian tragedy in the north east of the country.
Tens of thousands of people are believed to be trapped in the so called ‘safe zone’, surrounded by intense fighting and are being bombed and shelled every day. The health of the people is also a concern with very little food and water available.
The majority are suffering severe trauma and psychological problems from the constant danger and upheaval, report aid agencies. They are running out of all coping mechanisms and most people are spending all day and night in home-made bunkers to escape the shelling. Heavy rains have added to their misery and dire living conditions.
Church leaders, including Catholic and Anglican Bishops, said: “As religious leaders, we are willing to attempt to facilitate, by ourselves or in association with others, a temporary cessation of fighting for the sole humanitarian purpose of ensuring the safe evacuation of the civilians.”
So far their offer has not been taken up by either the Tamil Tigers or the Government.
CAFOD’s Head of International Programmes, Pauline Taylor-McKeown, said: “A ceasefire, or at least a temporary ceasefire, is critical if these people, who have already suffered years of deprivation, are to be saved. Their circumstances are deteriorating hourly. This is a grave humanitarian crisis. The needs of food, water, health, sanitation, shelter and above physical security must be addressed without delay and we fully support our partners in their determination to bring an end to this situation with the safe passage of those caught up in this conflict.”
CAFOD sources in the affected Vanni area have reported heavy shelling in the ‘safe zone’ on the east coast of Mullaitivu. A CAFOD partner, who must remain anonymous because of worries for his own safety, said: “It’s painful to see innocent civilians being killed in big numbers by shelling and by long range gun fire. Whole families have been wiped out. We are constantly having to move from place to place to avoid the fighting and people are coming to us daily seeking assistance.”
CAFOD has given £70,000 to help war-affected people in Sri Lanka this year. Most recently it gave £20,000 to its partner Caritas Sri Lanka, who are providing emergency food, water and shelter for 5,000 people who have managed to escape the Vanni and are now in Jaffna in the north of Sri Lanka. With increasing humanitarian needs, more money will be necessary.
Pauline Taylor-McKeown said: “Even for those who do manage to either escape, or who are released, major difficulties are in store. They will face, months if not years in camps while their own lands are de-mined. Having gone through such traumatic experiences of displacement and untold hardships - mental health problems, including suicidal incidents, will increase.”