Tamil Nadu, prayer and fasting for refugees in Sri Lanka
by Nirmala Carvalho
The Bishop of Madurai invites the bishops of Trincomalee and Mannar to find out about the "real situation after the war." And announces the creation of a health care team ready to go to the aid of refugees. UN envoy expected to arrive in Colombo on 17 September: we are "very concerned about the progress of the peace process."

Chennai (AsiaNews) - The Church in Tamil Nadu state is calling Catholics to a day of prayer and fasting for refugees in Sri Lanka. The initiative is scheduled for 19 September and was announced in a pastoral letter that the bishops sent to all the faithful on 13 September.

Mons. Peter Fernando, arcivescovo di Madurai, afferma ad AsiaNews: “Abbiamo invitato i vescovi di Trincomalee e Mannar perché ci informino della reale situazione dello Sri Lanka dopo la guerra. Vogliamo condividere con loro quanto accade nei campi profughi, conoscere la condizione delle centinaia di migliaia di persone che li abitano, dei bambini, delle donne e degli anziani che stanno soffrendo in condizioni miserabili”.

 Mgr. Peter Fernando, Archbishop of Madurai, tells AsiaNews: "We invited the bishops of Trincomalee and Mannar because we want to find out about the real situation in Sri Lanka after the war. We want to share with them what is happening in the camps, to know about the conditions of the hundreds of thousands of people who inhabit them, the children, women and elderly who are suffering in miserable conditions".  

For the Church in Tamil Nadu, the Indian state with the largest number of refugees from Sri Lanka, more than 260 thousand war refugees are still detained in the camps where they are experiencing a  "humanitarian crisis, that is not being brought to the attention of international forums on human rights."

The Bishop of Madurai is calling for "assurances on the resettlement of refugees," "guarantees of promised economic assistance " and he is urging the authorities in Tamil Nadu "to lobby the central government of India to help the refugees." Meanwhile the Church "is organizing a health care group with doctors, nurses and counsellors ready to intervene in aid of the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in the event that permission to enter the refugee camps is granted".  

Immediately after the end of the war, announced on 19 May, the Colombo government had promised the return of refugees to their villages within 180 days. At the end of that month, however, during the visit of the UN Secretary General, President Mahinda Parajapaksa had already scaled down his promise by ensuring the accommodation of 80% of IDPs by the end of the year. Now it seems difficult that this new deadline will be respected.    

Lynn Pascoe, UN undersecretary for political affairs, said today that the UN is very concerned about the “progress of the peace process". Speaking ahead of her forthcoming visit to Sri Lanka, scheduled for 17 and 18 September, the UN envoy said she wanted to discuss with the Colombo government "the return of IDPs, political reconciliation and the establishment of mechanisms for identifying the liability of allegations of human rights violations during the conflict".

 According to local sources, the Colombo government is determined to keep its promises, but must deal with two problems. On the one hand there are the delays in the recovery of villages and the reclamation of areas that were the theatre of the war, on the other, the obstruction of the military, who see in every refugee a possible Tamil Tiger terrorist.  

"The army has a different agenda to the government - says a local source, requesting anonymity - and refugees who are released from the camps and sent to transit centres are often sent back. So in short, the politicians propose and military dispose".