06/04/2010, 00.00
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Church does not stop helping civil war refugees

by Melani Manel Perera
Interview with Fr Sigamony, director of Caritas-Sri Lanka, who talks about the joys, successes and problems in the daily life of people displaced by the civil war as they try to meet their everyday practical and spiritual needs.
Colombo (AsiaNews) – Although Caritas-Sri Lanka is quite involved in helping civil war victims, “we are not completely satisfied” by the outcome of its work because “the needs of the people are so many. We can provide aid, but people need so many things. We cannot meet all their needs or requests. For what we have done for them, I, as [a member of the] Church, am happy, but I also know that the needs are so many. There is so much to do,” said Fr George Sigamony, director of Caritas-Sri Lanka, as he spoke to AsiaNews about what the Catholic Church has done for refugees and other victims of the war, and what still has to be done.

For years, Fr Sigamony has followed the difficult situation in refugee camps. “I am happy to see that people are no longer confined in refugee camps,” he said. “Now they can move, go back to their villages, see relatives and put their families back together. However, these people still need so much help from government and agencies in order to go home. Sadly, they are getting very little help. When I visit these people, I see so many problems, like that of widows. Sri Lanka must face these problems. The Church must face them.”

Caritas has been tracking the refugees since they were in the camps. It does so even now.

“In April 2009, we began taking care of refugees in the camps in Manik Farm, Trincomalee and Jaffna, about 97,000 people, we gave them food, psychological support and training,” he said. “When these people went back to their villages, we followed them, especially through our diocesan centres in Vanni, Jaffna and Mannar. Our staff went with them. We lived with them and tried to help them in every possible way.”

“When they went back to their villages, we gave them food rations to meet their essential needs. When we asked them what they needed, they said shelter,” the priest said.

“They need lights, but there is no power. So, we provided them with solar-powered lamps, especially the widows and the women who have had to become head of the family. We gave them bicycles because moving around is another major problem, especially for children who must walk a lot to get to schools that are faraway.”

“Our main priority is helping widows and single women, most of whom are young, between 18 and 32 years, with two or three children,” Fr Sigamony said. “We want to encourage the education of children. Even when they were in refugee camps, we helped them with their education.”

The Church has not neglected the non-material needs of the refugees. Fr Sigamony said he was grateful to “the bishops, especially Mgrs Joseph Rayappu and Thomas Savundaranayagam.  From the start, they never neglected the needs of the people. They stood by them. Priests were always present in the camps to meet people’s spiritual needs.”

“When people started to be resettled, they had priests with them. People realised that the Church would never leave them alone, that the Church travels with them.”

Still, even if refugees are home, they are not all happy. “Many families lost husbands and sons; many children are orphaned. It will take a lot of time before their wounds are healed. Many young mothers tell us how they saw their husbands and children die. It will take a long time before they can heal from this.”

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