Tamils from across Watford came together to light a celebratory oil lamp yesterday as they prepare to send sacks of rice and vital medicines back to their native Sri Lanka.

Thousands of Tamils have been caught up in fighting in the northern part of the South Asian island.

The UN had estimated almost 3,000 civilians have been killed during fierce fighting in Sri Lanka, with an estimated 150,000 more people trapped in the war zone.

The Tamil diaspora in Britain have been organising a “mercy mission”, to ship food, medicine and basic goods to the refugees caught up in the fighting.

Sri Lankans in Watford have said the situation is now reaching “catastrophic proportions,” and have opened a shop on Gammons Lane to help the speed up the donations.

They have already collected sacks of rice and flour, as well as sugar, condensed milk, biscuits, baby food, tinned vegetables and medicines.

Yesterday afternoon the Mayor Dorothy Thornhill joined members of Watford's Tamil community to light an oil lamp to officially open the shop.

Sri Mohan, one of the organisers, said: “There are a lot of people in Sri Lanka who have been affected by the civil war.

“The Tamil communities all over the UK are gathering food and medicine and we are going to send it out there on a ship.”

He added: “We are trying to make sure everybody is aware of this so we can help our own community back home.”

Before lighting the lamp, the Mayor told the group: “I'm sure there will be a significant amount of food and medicines, I hope you can get the situation a little bit of publicity and I hope this place will be full to the brim.”

Donations can be left at Londis, 71 Gammons Lane. Organisers have asked for no food items with less than six months expiry.