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‘Sri Lankan government has an obligation to release civilians and provide adequate assistance’ – MSF

August 22, 2009

‘Sri Lankan government has an obligation to release civilians and provide adequate assistance’

Hans van de Weerd, General Director of MSF Holland, has recently returned from Sri Lanka. Here we ask him about the situation in the northern district of Vavuniya, where there are over 260,000 displaced people as a result of the now ended war between the Sri Lankan army and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.

“More than 260,000 displaced people are living in Vavuniya spread out over many different camps where they still don’t have freedom of movement. They are not allowed to leave the camps and are not allowed to possess phones.”

“Overall, there is a concerning shortage of medical staff inside the camps and MSF staff still hear stories of people who say it has taken them days to see a doctor.”

“Furthermore, in most of the camps, there are no adequate health services functioning at night, so it is down to the soldiers at the gates to judge whether a patient is ill enough to need to go to a hospital outside the camps.”

“MSF is working for the people in the camps, where freedom of movement is severely restricted, according to the government because of the concern about the presence of former fighters among the civilians. There are provisions under international law for such restrictions in states of emergency, which the Sri Lankan parliament has declared, but they are meant to be of limited duration…To date, there has been no clear, systematic release of anyone from the camps, with the exception of children under 10 and adults over 60 who have relatives outside the camps.”

“MSF is of the opinion that the government has an obligation to release civilians and ensure that adequate assistance is provided.”

“The process to issue visas for international staff is lengthy and very bureaucratic and this has hampered our work. Also the teams having to enter the camps on a daily basis for the feeding activities are often hindered by unclear procedures, which sometimes delays the work by hours or days.”

“MSF is not allowed to enter camps where we do not work and we have not been able to carry out an independent assessment of the needs of the displaced people in the camps.”

“MSF has the capacity to scale up activities and provide medical and mental health care for the people inside the camps. So far, the authorities have not accepted this proposal for assistance.”
Read full article here.

The war in Sri Lanka has ended but the suffering continues

Any health system would have difficulties responding to the needs of over 260,000 people who recently came out of a war zone. And so, facilities in the Sri Lankan IDP camps are overstretched. People sometimes need to wait days before they can see a doctor for treatment and at night non-medical people decide who gets referred to a hospital and who does not. The suffering continues.

For the past three months, Ati* has been living in a camp in Menik farm with her husband and three children. Two weeks ago, her five year old son had a fever and was barely responding. She carried him to the clinic in the camp at 5am and queued to see a doctor until 6pm. Like many others that day, she did not get to see a doctor and returned to her tent with her sick child and no treatment. She went back the next day and again failed to see a doctor after waiting for another 13 hours. It wasn’t until the third day that she finally managed to see a doctor who gave her some antibiotics.
Read full article here.

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