‘1,400 dying each week in Manik Farm camp’ – The Times
[TamilNet, Friday, 10 July 2009, 03:37 GMT]
About 1,400 people are dying every week at the giant Manik Farm internment camp set up in Sri Lanka to detain Tamil refugees from the nation’s bloody civil war, senior international aid sources have told The Times. The shocking toll lends credence to allegations that the Government, which has termed the internment sites “welfare villages”, has actually constructed concentration camps to house 300,000 people, the paper said. Most of the deaths are the result of water-borne diseases, particularly diarrhoea, a senior relief worker told The Times on condition of anonymity.
The death toll will add to concerns that the Sri Lankan Government has failed to halt a humanitarian catastrophe after announcing victory over the Tamil Tigers, the paper said.
The Manik Farm camp was set up to house the largest number of the 300,000 mainly Tamil civilians forced to flee the northeast as army forces mounted a brutal offensive against the Tigers.
Aid workers and the British Government have warned that conditions at the site are inadequate.
Witness testimonies obtained by The Times in May described long queues for food and inadequate water supplies inside Manik Farm.
Women, children and the elderly were shoved aside in the scramble for supplies. Aid agencies are being given only intermittent access to the camp. The Red Cross was not being allowed in Thursday, the paper said.
In late June, the Colombo based NGO Sarvodaya Shramadana Sangamaya said tens of thousands of Tamil children were malnourished with many acutely malnourished.
“About thirty thousand to thirty five thousand children are sheltered in Manik Farm. Many of them are suffering from diseases and some still suffer from injuries sustained in the military operations. Fifteen to twenty percent of them are also suffering from acute malnutrition,” media reports in Colombo said quoting Dr. Vinya Ariyaratne, the executive director of the NGO said.
“The international standard is for 20 people to use one toilet, but in Manik Farm about 70 people are sharing one toilet,” he also said.
In mid-June the international charity World Vision warned that more impending monsoon rains could spread diseases if sanitation and drainage were not improved quickly.
When the rains come in two weeks or so, I can't imagine what conditions will be like due to the lack of any proper drainage and toilet system," Suresh Bartlett, World Vision's country director was quoted as saying.
News of the horrific death rate at Manik Farm came as the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) was asked to scale down its operations by the Sri Lankan authorities.
Thursday night, the Red Cross was closing two offices, The Times reported.
One of these is in Trincomalee, which had helped to provide medical care to about 30,000 injured civilians evacuated by sea from the conflict zone in the north east.
The other is in Batticaloa, where the Red Cross had been providing “protection services”.
This involves following up allegations of abductions and extrajudicial killings, practices that human rights organisations say have become recurring motifs of the Sri Lankan Government, The Times pointed out.
Meanwhile, Mangala Samaraweera, a former Foreign Minister and now an opposition MP, told The Times that the government of President Mahinda Rajapakse is deliberately seeking to efface the Tamil identity of the north.
“There are allegations that the Government is attempting to change the ethnic balance of the area. Influential people close to the Government have argued for such a solution,” he said.