|© UNICEF Sri Lanka/2006/Mead|
|Jeyapiria Jeyaratnam, 10, was wounded in recent fighting near Jaffna, Sri Lanka.|
By Francis Mead
JAFFNA, Sri Lanka, 26 October 2006 – Sri Lanka’s Jaffna Peninsula has already seen decades of conflict. Now its population of 600,000 is feeling the effects of the recent upsurge in fighting between the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and government forces.
Apart from the sound of occasional shelling in the distance, the streets of Jaffna town are quiet. Because of fuel shortages there are few motorized vehicles on the road, and due to security concerns few businesses are operating at all. Many people have no work, and transportation into Jaffna is currently limited to air and sea.
In the town, queues form outside food shops. Although the government is continuing to bring in supplies by ship and has set up a rationing system, almost everyone talks about shortages of flour, rice, sugar and lentils. On the black market, sugar and petrol now cost about four times their normal prices.
More than 50,000 people are displaced across the peninsula. The majority have squeezed into the houses of relatives and friends. Others have gathered at temporary accommodation centres.
‘Noises in the night’
In Jaffna town, over 1,300 people are living in school buildings on the grounds of Our Lady of Refuge Church. The families here have clustered their few belongings – some clothes, mattresses, blankets, pots and pans – on the stone floors.
They fled from two villages, Allaipiddy and Mandaithevu, on the islands to the west of Jaffna. The residents of Allaipiddy have been forced to leave their village twice this year – once in May, after the killing of 13 civilians, and again in August, when fighting broke out in the area.
“A shell landed on our village and I was wounded in the leg,” recalls Jeyapiria Jeyaratnam, 10. “I’ve seen a lot of fighting. I hear noises in the night and I’m very scared. I feel that a shell is going to fall here, and I get frightened when I hear about fighting on the radio.”
|© UNICEF Sri Lanka/2006/Mead|
|Four families with a total of 11 children are staying at Yogaraja Vijeyabarathy’s house following an upsurge in fighting in Sri Lanka’s Jaffna Peninsula.|
Her mother, Mary Angaleena, says the family decided to sleep in a church when the shelling started. She was wounded as well, and the family was evacuated by ambulance. “We lost everything, even our clothes,” she says.
Jeyapira now spends her time with other children at Our Lady of Refuge. She also helps fetch water when her mother cooks. She is in Grade 5 and says she’s disappointed she had to miss her exams because of the conflict.
Living with host families
Children like Jeyapira are registering for school and hope to start lessons soon. UNICEF has been working with the government and other partners to support the families at the church and additional centres in the area, creating spaces for children to play and take informal lessons.
The parish priest at Our Lady of Refuge worries that poor sanitary conditions might lead to the spread of disease at the site, and says he is trying to find another location for the people staying there. Meanwhile, UNICEF and its partners have supplied water tanks, toilets, washing areas and wells to accommodation centres across Jaffna.
Northeast of Jaffna town, in the Karaveddy area, about 7,000 people are displaced – two thirds of them living with host families. They fled from fighting on the front line in the east. In one small village, four families with 11 children between them are living together in a single-storey house.
“Food is the main problem,” says the owner of the house. “There’s not enough flour and rice, but everyone will stay here until the problem is solved.” Because of the security situation, the families are afraid to return to their village.
At a temporary accommodation centre nearby, another 36 families are staying at a school. They have received three rounds of rations but supplies are running low. Mothers at the centre say they cook rice porridge for breakfast. They can sometimes buy vegetables in the market, but in the evenings they skip meals so that they can feed their children.
Sri Lanka crisis
Aid to displaced families [with video]
A day of hope for peace [with video]
Children and families displaced and insecure in Jaffna, Sri Lanka [with audio]