07/03/2018, 15.54
SRI LANKA
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Christian lawyer saw hunger among refugees and today works for free to help them

by Melani Manel Perera

In 1996 Lakshan Dias started working with Sinhalese and Tamil who had fled to Norway during Sri Lanka’s civil war. About 1,200 refugees are in Sri Lanka, mainly from war zones. To welcome them is "responsibility of the government". For him, "we must not forget that we were the first to generate refugees” in the world.

Colombo (AsiaNews) – "I saw hunger among the Sri Lankan refugees and this pushed me to become an activist for the recognition of their rights,” said Lakshan Dias, a Christian lawyer who has worked for free for the past ten years helping refugees.

Speaking to AsiaNews, he said that “the Christian spirit drives me in this mission. I have seen the conditions in which refugees and asylum seekers live and I fight for them. I bear witness to Christ in this mission.”

The lawyer remembers meeting Sri Lankan refugees for first time in 1996 in Norway after they fled their country’s civil war. "There, the City of Stavanger had set up a camp for Sinhalese and Tamils in a place called Dale”.

"Later I worked in Hong Kong as a volunteer for NGOs dealing with asylum seekers. The work was very hard, we often ended up filling out the questions well past midnight."

Back in his country with the experience he had accumulated, he was contacted by the National Christian Council seeking his help to determine the refugee status of a Pakistani family.

From that moment onward, he also started working with the Evangelical Alliance. In fact, he explains, "among those applying for asylum many refugees were Christian in addition to Shia and Ahmadi Muslims".

Some 1,200 refugees are in Sri Lanka, mostly from places torn by wars and conflicts, such as Afghanistan, Syria, Palestine, Iran, Somalia and Nigeria, but also the Maldives and Rohingya from Myanmar.

Most of them are in the Negombo, an area near Colombo, where they are assisted by the UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, and several other organisations.

In fact, Dias stresses that "not all these people have the right to stay here and they cannot work because the country has not signed the 1951 Refugee Status Convention. However, we must not forget that we were the first to generate refugees (during Sri Lanka’s civil conflict), forcing almost a million people to seek shelter abroad."

"The world took care of them,” he notes. “For example, India has admitted about 100,000 people and another 200,000 are spread all over the world." For all these reasons, "it is our responsibility to take care of these people.”

“If they cannot work, they have no choice but to beg. Therefore, the government should consider ​allowing them to work, perhaps under UNHCR supervision, so that they can survive."

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