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No investigations for attacks on refugees in Sri Lanka

27th Dec 2019
No investigations for attacks on refugees in Sri Lanka

A woman views a damaged shop after mobs attacked Muslim-owned shops at the Minuwangoda village in Gampaha, about 43 km North of Colombo, Sri Lanka on May 14. (Credit: Chamila Karunarathne/AAy)

Elham Asaad Buaras

Authorities in Sri Lanka have been slammed by international human right groups for failing to investigate attacks on mainly Muslim refugees in the aftermath of the Easter Sunday attacks.

In a 28-page report, Amnesty International (AI) and Minority Rights Group International (MRGI) found authorities have failed to offer the refugees and asylum-seekers adequate protection and living conditions six months on from the attacks.

Published on October 31, the report titled ‘Unsafe at home, unsafe abroad: State obligations towards refugees and asylum-seekers in Sri Lanka’ also slams authorities for failing to bring those suspected of criminal responsibility to justice.

In the days after the Easter Sunday massacre — when an armed group killed more than 250 people in three churches and three hotels — mobs mounted attacks on refugees and asylum-seekers from Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Iran.

Even after they sought shelter in nearby community centres and a police station, they continued to come under attack.

Dinushika Dissanayake, South Asia Research Director at AI, said, “The refugees and asylum-seekers in Sri Lanka who came under attack have had a trauma visited upon them twice.

They were first forced to leave their own countries, and now, in the country where they sought safety and shelter, they have had to leave their homes once again. They languish in limbo, still fearful for their safety and uncertain of what is to come.

“The Sri Lankan authorities must make clear that violence against ethnic and religious minorities, particularly refugees and asylum-seekers, will not be tolerated and that anyone suspected of criminal responsibility for attacks against them will be brought to justice in fair trials.”

Joshua Castellino, Executive Director of MRG, said, “The attacks against these refugees and asylum-seekers have yet to be investigated and no-one has been held accountable. The Sri Lankan authorities must uphold their international obligations to protect their human rights, and the international community should expedite their resettlement process for those who are eligible so that they can finally find safety and their ordeal can come to an end.

The report details several instances where refugees and asylum-seekers were confronted by angry mobs in the days that followed the Easter Sunday attacks.

Two days after Easter Sunday, a mob of “four or five men” showed up at the home of Farhan, a Kashmiri. He said,They told us to leave. They hit us. Our landlord stopped the guys. He told them to let us go. They were shouting at us in Sinhalese, telling us to leave the country.

An Afghan refugee activist said, Now the people of Sri Lanka see refugees as a threat, no longer as [guests]. These people treat us like this because they don’t know what a refugee is.

Forced from their homes, many refugees and asylum-seekers squeezed into the garage of a police station and into community centres, where they lacked beds to sleep in, food to eat, adequate healthcare and sanitation facilities.

At the Negombo police station, around 160 people spent nearly 30 days in appalling conditions. The refugees and asylum-seekers were eventually moved to a camp in the north of Sri Lanka.


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