04/24/2018, 16.27
SRI LANKA
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Tamil Catholics return to Iranaitheevu Island and pray for their land

by Melani Manel Perera

Islanders were forced out in 1992 and left behind properties, later taken over by the Navy. A thanksgiving Mass was performed in the Church of the Holy Rosary in Mulankaveli, followed by a procession to the lagoon.

Iranaitheevu (AsiaNews) – After 25 years as displaced people, several Tamil Catholic families were able to return to Iranaitheevu Island, northern Sri Lanka. Due to the war, they left the island in 1992.

Since then, the 200 families living in different places and now reached the number of 400, including 95 headed by women, never stopped asking that they be allowed to go back to the life they led before the civil war.

Yesterday, the Tamil families were able to set foot again on the island, but they still have to wait for an authorisation to regain possession of the land they once owned.

Before their arrival, the refugees celebrated the Mass in Mulankaveli's Holy Rosary Church.

After the service, they walked for a kilometre and a half to the lagoon, chanting slogans in Tamil: "Give us back our lands. Do not tell us to go away. What is ours is ours."

The former residents reached the island on about forty boats provided by the fishermen. In the church they prayed for a long time to the Virgin Mary, weeping and thanking her for her intercession.

Then they settled down next to the place of worship, waiting for the authorities to grant them permission to resettle in their old properties.

Sinhalese activist Ruki Fernando notes that the Tamils never lost hope of going back to the island. Over the years, they have led a series of protests in Iranaimathaanagar, Poonakari, Kilinochchi, and even Colombo.

"The leader of the community,” he said, “travelled to Geneva for the 37th session of the Human Rights Council to highlight their never-ending fight and seek the support of the international community".

"What people want is simple,” he explained. “They want to have unlimited access to Iranaitheevu, to settle permanently, and revive their traditional activities, like fishing and agriculture, which guaranteed them a livelihood before they were displaced."

"They are not asking for the Navy to leave the area. They just want that the land taken by the military be returned. They also want to prevent the abuse and exploitation of the island's resources by people who access it illegally."

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