Humanitarian Crisis in Sri Lanka

May 15, 2009 1:47 pm

The Catholic Bishops of Australia and Catholic Religious Australia today expressed their prayerful solidarity with the people of Sri Lanka as the nation’s escalating civil war leads to a mounting humanitarian crisis. The Bishops and leaders of Religious Congregations said that the minority Tamil population were facing particular hardship, resulting in increasing numbers of traumatised, injured and malnourished displaced people. ‘An estimated 190,000 people have been uprooted in this offensive and are being housed in hastily developed displaced person camps outside the conflict zone. Providing adequate food, clean water and sanitation for everyone in such circumstances is a huge challenge. ‘Those still trapped in the conflict zone face even more dire circumstances. Reports tell of thousands who are crippled or wounded; rising civilian fatalities and casualties from indiscriminate bombing by both the Army and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE),’ the Bishops said. ‘As the conflict zone has shrunk to a three-km-sq strip of land, around 50,000 civilians remain trapped in the conflict area and exposed to the fighting. Doctors remaining in the area are struggling to cope with the massive number of wounded patients’. The Bishops and Religious Leaders recognize that by working through the Catholic Church’s established networks in this region, its charitable institutions have been able to attend to the needs of those both in and out of the conflict zone. Nonetheless much more remains to be done. ‘The protection of displaced persons continues to deteriorate as even safe zones have become targets of military operations, directly killing and injuring civilians. ‘We wish to echo the sentiments expressed in an open letter by the Bishops Conference of Sri Lanka, that ‘lasting peace can be realised only through a negotiated political solution which recognises human dignity and equality ensuring the legitimate rights and aspirations of all citizens’.’ The Bishops welcome the Australian government’s additional commitment of $10 million in aid announced last week, bringing the government’s humanitarian assistance to Sri Lanka to $23.5 million since December last year. However money remains only part of the solution. ‘We call upon the Australian government to take a leading role in advocating an immediate ceasefire and a return to the negotiating table. Recent reports indicate that the number of killed and injured in the safe zone has escalated dramatically, accentuating the need for international pressure on both sides of the conflict to allow civilians to escape the conflict area. ‘We pray for all of those affected by this terrible conflict and for their families and loved ones, many of whom, we know have settled in Australia. We pray also for those who are seeking to provide humanitarian relief in these most difficult circumstances.’ The Bishops have asked Australians to lend their support through the Caritas Australia Sri Lanka Humanitarian Crisis Appeal: call 1800 024 413 or donate online at www.caritas.org.au