08/28/2009, 00.00
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Religious sisters in Sri Lanka refugee camps among Tamil refugees

by Melani Manel Perera
Twenty nuns working in centers and hospitals around Vavuniya. Sister Fatima Nayaki, head of the group, says: "The only desire of every refugee is to begin a new life with dignity and freedom."

Colombo (AsiaNews) - For three months they have helped war refugees gathered in camps and hospitals in northern Sri Lanka. Twenty nuns of various congregations, who in May, through Caritas-Sri Lanka, responded to the government request for assistance to the so-called internally displaced persons (IDPs).  

Official data report that, until mid-August, only 19 camps in the district of Vavuniya, are home to more than 79 thousand families for a total of over 246 thousand people. The sisters have lived with them and now they are describing what they saw. At first they were not allowed to enter the camps and hospitals, only after some time could they begin their work of assistance, but not without restrictions and prohibitions.  

Sister Jayangika of apostolic congregation of the Carmelites, worked in a hospital in Poovarasankulam. "The health authorities would allowed us to treat only people with chickenpox. There were several pregnant women. Ten of them had lost their husbands and had only the clothes on their backs. " Sr. Jayangika adds: "They eyes were filled with tears and we wanted to cry-out from seeing them in those conditions. Of course we could not do it in front of them, so each time a scream would rise in our throats we struggled to hold back”.    

Sister Fatima Nayaki, who led the group of nuns, tells AsiaNews: "The only desire of every refugee is to begin a new life with dignity and freedom. They do not want to remember what has happened to them in recent months and are struggling with their past. When they saw us they asked us to pray for them and bless them".  

 Sister Francisca, of the Congregation of the Holy Family, said: "The refugees are waiting for someone to come help them, bring them food, clothes. They have only rice, dhal, salt and some coconut”. In temporary shelters set up by the government to house refugees in the transition from the camps to villages of origin, there are shops and markets. But Sr. France explains that "the benches are full of fruit but is too expensive and the refugees have no money to buy it. Some collect a few coins recovering clean water, firewood or catching fish for other refugees, but never more than 10 or 15 rupees, and they use them to buy food for the children".  

Many of the camps in which the sisters have provided support are huddled along the roadside. "Everyone can see them from outside - says Sr. Francisca - Hundreds of colourful huts. But the life of those who live there is not colourful at all. There are only people who mourn their children, who have been killed or have disappeared”.  

In the days of the great pilgrimage to the shrine of Our Lady of Madhu the streets were full of cars and trucks. The religious women add: "Watching the pilgrims on the move was painful for many. We consoled them explaining that Madhu Amma [the Mother, ndr] knew their problems and that She was with them. On August 15, then some priests of the diocese of Mannar who had not travelled to the shrine celebrated the Mass of the Assumption in the camps with the refugees”.

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See also
Religious personnel under Wanni bombings
UN gives full backing to President Rajapaksa
War heroes week divides Sri Lanka
From Our Lady of Madhu a task for Christians in Sri Lanka: Peace between Sinhalese and Tamils
Burmese in Thailand, refugees of the "longest civil war in the world"


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