06/21/2019, 17.02
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The tragedy of those displaced by the Easter Sunday attacks

by Melani Manel Perera

The refugees feel useless because they cannot work. Their life in camps, without proper sanitary facilities and drinking water, is a challenge.

Colombo (AsiaNews) – Compared to other countries with millions of refugees, Sri Lanka is seemingly in a better position. In fact, the island nation is host to only some 1,700 refugees, mostly Ahmadi Muslims and people displaced by retaliatory violence in the aftermath of last Easter Sunday attacks. Yet, their state leaves a lot to be desired.

According to official UN figures, Sri Lanka has 862 refugees and 829 asylum seekers: 1,362 come from Bangladesh, Eritrea, India, Iran, Maldives, Myanmar, Nigeria, Palestine, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia and Yemen.

There are also people who were displaced by the violence that followed the Easter Sunday attacks on 21 April, who found shelter mostly in the ​​Negombo area, in rented houses.

The owners have however refused to sign contracts with them and are instead renting the flats to other tenants. The displaced people have had no choice but to find shelter at two mosques in Negombo and Pasyala and in the Vavuniya Punatotam refugee camp.

According to Pradeep Wanigasuriya, administrator of the National Fisheries Solidarity Movement (NAFSO), "If they [the refugees] do engage in employment illegally, they run the risk of being exploited, underpaid or detained if caught."

For UNHCR head Menique Amarasinghe in Sri Lanka, the most painful thing is that they feel useless because “they can’t engage in anything productive. They find it difficult that their families are struggling”. What is more, “The mental issue of not being able to work is a very big problem.”

"There’s a lot of frustration” that comes on top of the difficulties caused by the lack of sanitary facilities, drinking water, schools for children, and different food.

Some also wonder how all this was possible in a “country that says to practise true Buddhism”.

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