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UNICEF fears for thousands of children trapped in Sri Lanka’s conflict

2009-04-21

KATHMANDU, 20 April 2009 – As 35,000 people today fled Sri Lanka’s conflict zone, UNICEF said it held grave fears for those children who remain trapped in escalating fighting.

With tens of thousands of children still caught amid growing hostilities between the LTTE and troops of the Government of Sri Lanka, UNICEF warned of dreadful consequences for children.

“If fighting continues and if the LTTE refuses to allow people to leave the conflict zone, then we face the intolerable inevitability of seeing many more children killed,” said UNICEF’s Regional Director for South Asia, Daniel Toole.

The United Nations estimates that more than 100,000 people remain trapped in the middle of intense fighting on a 14 square kilometer strip of beach in Sri Lanka’s north.

“With this latest surge in fighting, our greatest fear is that the worst is yet to come,” said Mr Toole. “With the high concentration of people in a small space, the number of children killed in this conflict will continue to escalate. This is a price too heavy to pay. Solutions should be sought not just to win the war, but to win the peace.”

UNICEF supports calls by the UN Secretary General for a cessation in fighting during which aid workers could access the conflict zone and those civilians who want to leave are given the chance to do so.

To date there are 65,000 IDPS in camps in Vavuniya, Jaffna and Mannar, with 35,000 more to arrive in the next 48 hours. Overcrowding is a problem in most of the camps. Women and children coming out of the conflict affected areas have endured extreme conditions, including scarcity of food, for extended periods of time. UNICEF and the United Nations strongly advocate an early resettlement of IDPs. In the meantime, emergency relief assistance is required for these people.

UNICEF’s emergency support for children and their families includes nutritional support to malnourished children and their mothers, the provision of hygiene kits, emergency health kits, safe water, latrines and bathing facilities, and temporary learning shelters and educational kits for children. At the same time UNICEF is supporting hospitals to meet the increased needs for mother and child health, and is supporting the provision of psychosocial support and the identification of separated and unaccompanied children.

For further information:

Stefanie Carmichael, Communications Specialist, (416) 482-6552 ext. 8866; Cell: (647) 500-4230, scarmichael@unicef.ca.
Tiffany Baggetta, Director, Communications and Brand, (416) 482-6552 ext. 8892; Cell: (647) 308-4806, tbaggetta@unicef.ca.