06/12/2009, 00.00
SRI LANKA
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Jaffna bishop tells government that refugees must go home as soon as possible

by Melani Manel Perera
About 300,000 refugees are still living in dismal conditions. The United Nations, the Red Cross and Caritas are the only humanitarian organisations allowed inside the camps, all other NGOs are off-limits. For the Venerable Thero, a Buddhist monk and head of the Vipassana Meditation Centre, “Sri Lanka does not need foreign plans or advice. We won the war and we did it by following our own plans.”
Colombo (AsiaNews) –  “The refugees must go back home as soon as possible,” said Mgr Thomas Savundaranayagam, bishop of Jaffna, as he voiced concern about the conditions Sri Lanka’s war refugees are living in at present. The six camps set up by the government in the country’s northern peninsula host about 120,000 people out of a total refugee population of about 300,000.

Refugees are the control of the military and only humanitarian workers from the United Nations, the Red Cross and Caritas are allowed to come into contact with them, and even then with great difficulty.

All those who have seen the camps for internally displaced persons agree that their conditions is deplorable a month since the end of the hostilities. Water, food and medicines are in short supply.

Bishop Savundaranayagam wants the refugees to be quickly repatriated to their place of origin, and wonders why the government is postponing the operation.

“I realise that certain things must be done, things clearing mines, rebuilding houses and repairing the infrastructure. I can understand why the government asked for three months before resettlement could take place, but now I hear rumours about six months . . . .  It should instead happen as quickly as possible.”

In the refugee camps in Jaffna, Vavuniya and Chettikulam Caritas and the Catholic Church are involved in supporting and defending the work of priests and volunteers. But Mgr Rayappu Joseph, bishop of Mannar, has refused to make a statement on the refugee situation for fear that his words might be used to damage what Caritas is doing. All he has been willing to say is that “humanitarian workers have seen 30,000 people in the camps and want to continue their good work for our people.”

Much speculation is being made about the fate of the refugees. Tamils are especially concerned that President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s promises might not be kept and that they have no future in Sri Lanka.

“Thousands of Tamil civilians have nothing to do with the LTTE rebels and moved to government-controlled areas with much hope,” said Venerable Harispaththuwe Ariyawansalankara Thero, a Buddhist monk who heads the Vipassana Meditation Centre. “They believed that the armed forces and the Sinhalese were their only salvation. Now they must show confidence that they will be treated fairly and adequately.”

For Thero the fate of the refugees is in the hands of the Sri Lankan government. Nothing ought to be done to thwart the plans of Rajapaksa’s government.

The Venerable also supports of the government’s decision to keep NGOs out, especially those based in Great Britain, because of the money they gave to the LTTE.

“Sri Lanka does not need foreign plans or advice,” the Buddhist leader said. “We won the war and we did it by following our own plans.”

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