06/20/2017, 17.43
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Movies and plays in Colombo to show the plight of refugees

by Melani Manel Perera

Today is World Refugee Day. Sri Lanka hosts 604 refugees in Sri Lanka with another 576 applying for recognition. The government does not guarantee the right to housing, food, education, medical care and does not provide opportunities for legal employment.

Colombo (AsiaNews) – The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) marked World Refugee Day in Sri Lanka today by screening films and organising plays focused on the precarious conditions refugees live in the island nation.

Speaking to AsiaNews, Catholic activist Ruki Fernardo said that the country hosts “604 people who obtained refugee status from the UNHCR and another 576 whose application is still pending".

They receive help from religious groups, mostly Muslim and Christian, and NGOs who deal "with their education, housing, care and food."

One of them is Fr Anthony Nishan’s parish in Negombo, which helps migrants by donating Mass offerings. "But these have been very, very minimal, often adhoc and only few have benefited. Those recognized as refugees get an allowance of about Rs. 10,000 per person or Rs. 22,000 for family with two or more children, which is for everything and not enough to live in dignity in Sri Lanka,” Fernardo said. However, for him, this is “not enough for them”.

The activist noted that about 75 per cent of refugees in Sri Lanka come from Pakistan, almost 15 per cent come from Afghanistan and the rest from countries that are poor or in conflict situations such as Bangladesh, Iran, Maldives, Myanmar, Palestine, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, Ukraine and Yemen.

According to Fernando, the government does not guarantee the right to a home, food, education, medical care, and provides no opportunity for legal employment.

"Some asylum seekers are turned away at the airport and sent back to the conditions they fled,” he explained. They are not given any “opportunity to ask for legal advice or present their case. This violates customary laws and basic human rights.”

“Sri Lanka still has a long way to go before granting refugees and asylum-seekers their rights, and showing compassion and attention to those fleeing persecution."

At 4 pm today, members of the UNHCR, along with the Stages Theatre Group staged ‘Asylum’ at the Bandaranayaike Auditorium Centre for International Studies at the Bandaranayaike Memorial International Conference Hall.

Refugees staged ‘The Certificate’ and ‘A Syrian Monologue’ under the artistic direction of Ruwanthi de Chikera with free entry for refugees.

Between 23 and 25 June, UNHCR’s World Refugee Day will end with the screening of seven movies at the National Film Cooperation in Colombo.

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