Christian Aid, the UK-based international churches' development agency, has welcomed the end of the fighting in Sri Lanka but warns that the humanitarian crisis created by the conflict is far from over and that refugee camps are struggling to cope.
“Now that the Sri Lankan government has won the war, they must ensure that they win the peace,” said Robin Greenwood, director of Christian Aid’s Asia division.
He continued: “The priority now is to help those who have had to flee their homes to rebuild their lives. Thousands of people who have escaped the fighting are already being held by the Sri Lankan government in temporary camps. Tens of thousands more are likely to arrive in the coming days. But these camps are already severely over-crowded and unable to meet the basic food and shelter needs of those who are arriving."
“Many children have witnessed terrible scenes as they escaped with their parents to safety. Some saw their parents killed or were separated from them during the journey. These children will need intensive counselling in the months to come,” added Mr Greenwood.
The tens of thousands of people who were trapped in the no-fire zone with insufficient food and in constant fear for their lives, are now expected to move into the government camps in Vavuniya and Jaffna.
In Jaffna, the camps are better able to cope but people are still arriving in a severely malnourished state as many have been cut off from farming and fishing opportunities for months, says Darishini Mahandren, the Christian Aid programme officer for Jaffna.
So far, no counselling has been available for those traumatised by the war but Christian Aid hopes to provide that in the coming months if the government allows outsiders to enter the camps.
Ms Mahandren says the government is sending more people to Vavuniya than Jaffna, even though the overcrowding is more severe in Vavuniya.
“It is very important that the government devises a medium term strategy to permanently resettle people who have been displaced, or to guarantee their safety if they return to their place of origin. Otherwise the cycle of violence may begin again in the near future”, explained Robin Greenwood.
Christian Aid has been working with local organisations to respond to the humanitarian needs of those who have fled from the conflict by providing much-needed relief in the camps.
Donations are urgently needed to continue this work, it says, pointing out that £33 could provide ten blankets and mosquito nets for families arriving with nothing; £48 could provide an entire month of specialist medical assistance to injured and sick women and children and £125 could pay for nutritious,
cooked meals for ten families for a week.