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Human Rights

Over 800 refugees stranded – activists

By Imesh Ranasinghe

Over 800 refugees have been left stranded following a tense situation in Negombo earlier this week that came in the wake of the Easter Sunday bombings.

According to human rights activist Ruki Fernando, 120 refugees are now at the Negombo police station, while 350 males in various mosques and 350 females in a camp in Pasyala, Gampaha.

These refugees had been displaced for the second time within Sri Lanka due to a conflict, said Fernando.

“They are here because there is no place for them in their country, and the Sri Lankan government has kindly allowed them to stay here by an agreement between them and the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), but unfortunately they are not provided food or housing by the government and their children cannot access the free education prevailing in the country. Yet they are subjected to the Sri Lankan law as they are here legally,” he said.

Fernando was speaking at a press conference in Colombo yesterday organised by a collective known as Unity of Negombo Citizens (UNC), to raise awareness on the situation reported to have arisen in Negombo.

The activist expressed his appreciation of the Negombo police and mosques for coming forward to accept the refugees, despite pressure.

“We should not only open our hearts, but our doors too,” he said, inviting Christian institutes and Buddhist and Hindu temples to accept the stranded refugees.

Convener of the National Fisheries Solidarity Movement Herman Kumara said that Unity of Negombo was formed through an open dialogue between Muslims, Christians, Hindus and Buddhists living in the area, with the aim of maintaining peace, harmony and achieving justice in the country together.

Due to the attacks, said Kumara, some tension among the communities started to come out, especially between Christians and Muslims. The refugees, who are from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran and Yemen, residing in the Negombo are also suffering apart from the local Muslims. They have been forced to vacate their homes as their landlords were threatened by neighbours.

Human rights activist Prasanga Fernando said that religious freedom which prevailed in Negombo has been effected to a certain extent after this incidence, as a group calling themselves the ‘Ninjas’ is threatening the refugees and the Muslim community. According to Fernando, this group has been delivering letters to their doorsteps and shops asking them to leave. They have also allegedly beaten some of them. However, no local media has taken the initiative to report on this, he complained.

A resident from Negombo Sheik Hasmathullah said that he and his family were forced to leave Negombo and stay in Colombo with the intention of returning on Thursday (25), but considering the situation have decided to stay back in Colombo.

He also said that it was unfair to target or blame them as he and several people in his area have no connection with any kind of terrorism whatsoever. Hasmmathulla urged all Sri Lankans not to label all Muslims as terrorists.

Reading a statement released by All Ceylon Jamiyathul Ulama (ACJU), its National Coordinator for Education Ash Sheikh Khalid Mahmud said the ACJU, on behalf of the Muslim community in Sri Lanka, condemns the inhuman terrorist attack on Christian churches and other places while their Christian brothers and sisters were celebrating Easter. It was a shameful and heinous act which no human being could tolerate, he said.

“ACJU is ready to extend their arms of love and help the fellow brethren who are affected by the attack,” he added.

He also appealed to all the Communal and religious leaders to provide guidance to the people in their respective areas to prevent communal conflict and stop them from spreading rumours through different forms of media.

The position taken by Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith was also praised by all of the speakers gathered at the press conference.