Sri Lanka: Overseas Aid

International Development written question – answered on 15th October 2008.

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Photo of Keith Vaz Keith Vaz Chair, Home Affairs Committee, Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee, Chair, Home Affairs Committee

To ask the Secretary of State for International Development

(1) what the initial findings of his Department's assessment team on the humanitarian situation in northern Sri Lanka are; and if he will make a statement;

(2) how many people were on his Department's assessment team on the humanitarian situation in northern Sri Lanka;

(3) how many days his Department's assessment team spent observing the humanitarian situation in northern Sri Lanka on its recent visit;

(4) what areas were visited by his Department's assessment team on the humanitarian situation in northern Sri Lanka;

(5) whether his Department's assessment team reported being subject to significant travel restrictions during its visit to Sri Lanka; and if he will make a statement;

(6) what further steps the Government plans to take in response to the humanitarian situation in northern Sri Lanka.

Photo of Michael Foster Michael Foster Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for International Development

The Department for International Development's (DFID) assessment of the humanitarian situation in northern Sri Lanka is that it is severe and in need of urgent relief action. As I reported to the House on 14 October 2008, Hansard , columns 240-48WH, we estimate that the number of Sri Lankans displaced in the latest surge in the conflict between the Sri Lankan armed forces and separatist extremists has risen from approximately 75,000 in July to between 200,000 and 250,000. Because many of these people have suffered multiple previous displacements they are particularly vulnerable. They are trapped between opposing forces in a pocket of north-east Sri Lanka without the assistance they need, lacking food, water, shelter, healthcare or sanitation. It is impossible to gauge exact numbers or their full plight because there is no humanitarian access to them. There are plans by the United Nations and the Sri Lankan authorities to mount relief convoys but so far very little is getting through.

As I said in the House on 14 October 2008, Official Repor t, columns 240-48 WH, we deplore this situation, have called on all parties to the conflict to facilitate access and humanitarian aid and I am pleased to have committed a further £2.5 million for humanitarian relief through the international agencies.

The DFID assessment team comprised one UK-based humanitarian specialist who has previously worked in Sri Lanka and has visited Sri Lanka many times and a representative of the British high commission in Colombo.

The assessment team visited Sri Lanka from 16 to 24 September, including Vavunia and Jaffna District, where they were able to travel without difficulties or restrictions. They were unable to visit the Wanni area because security there could not be assured.

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