03/04/2021, 15.56
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A government COVID cemetery will destroy Iranativu Island's ecosystem

by Melani Manel Perera

Sri Lankan authorities plan to bury Muslims who die from COVID-19 on the island. Environmentalists and locals fear the cemetery will disrupt the island’s fragile environmental balance. The area is famous for fishing, woods, farmland and livestock.

Colombo (AsiaNews) – The people of Iranativu Island took to the streets yesterday to protest against the government's decision to use the island as a burial place for people who died as a result of COVID-19.

The leaders of the local Church sympathise with the demonstrators who went protested again today.

The authorities picked the island, which is located off the coast of north-western Sri Lanka, in Kilinochchi district, to bury Muslims who died from the virus.

This has angered islanders, who hastily filled the holes dug by members of the Sri Lankan Navy, then wrote to government leaders, telling them not to turn the island into a pandemic graveyard.

Many people crowded the port to express their opposition. Priests and vicar general from the Diocese of Jaffna joined the protest, in solidarity with islanders whose letter was handed over to several local authorities, including the Bishop of Jaffna, the governor of the Northern Province and the Ministry of Fisheries.

Iranativu is an “ island village”, says the letter, “located in the Gulf of Mannar”, and is the ancestral place of 417 families.

The ocean waters surrounding it “contain a wide variety of fish”, including sea cucumbers for export. In addition, boats and fishing vessels use the port to refuel or when they have to seek shelter during bad weather or to mend fishing nets.

“The soil is rich and the hinterland is covered with trees, farmland, and pastures for livestock breeding.” Making it a COVID cemetery means “destroying its ecosystem”, while “Muslims must at the same time be guaranteed a dignified place to bury their loved ones”.

A Ministry of Health committee picked the location, said government spokesman Keheliya Rambukwella.

The bodies should be taken to Iranativu from two different locations on Sri Lanka’s main island: one is the Office of the Judicial Medical Officer; the other is the Welikanda Base Hospital.

Activists and civil society groups told AsiaNews that the government's choice threatens the island’s environment.

For other observers, the government’s choice is meant to stir further divisions between Tamils and Muslims in the country.

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