International rights’ groups say Muslim as well as other foreign refugees and asylum seekers need protection
May 14, 2019
International human rights’ groups have urged the Sri Lankan government to protect Muslim as well as other foreign refugees and asylum seekers following the Easter Sunday bombings in which Christians were targeted.
More than 250 people were killed in attacks by Sri Lankan Muslim militants on April 21.
There has since been pockets of communal strife, including cases of Christians attacking Muslim shop owners among about 1,100 refugees and asylum seekers who mostly reside in Negombo near the capital, Colombo.
Among those seen as being at risk are Muslims from Pakistan and Afghanistan as well as people from Iran and Yemen who variously fled religious, ethnic and political persecution in their home countries.
They include members of the Ahmadi community discriminated against by some mainstream Muslims.
International rights’ groups say some Christian refugees and asylum seekers are also endangered amid the current volatility.
A joint statement was issued by international organizations including Amnesty International, FORUM-ASIA, Franciscans International, Freedom from Torture, Human Rights Watch and the International Commission of Jurists.
They said authorities in Sri Lanka should take steps to maintain order and prevent retaliatory vigilante action.
“Unfortunately, refugees and asylum seekers have been unfairly targeted and displaced after the (terrorist) attacks, with landlords under local pressure to evict them from their homes,” the statement read in part.
The international groups called for those who are unfairly vulnerable to acts of retribution to be relocated to appropriate locations with adequate sanitation, sleeping space and security.
Sri Lanka provides refuge to foreigners while their claims for protection are processed by the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
In particular, the foreign rights’ bodies called for the protection of at-risk children and for Sri Lankan officials not to deport people who fear mistreatment if sent back to their homelands or any other place where their lives or freedoms would be threatened.
To do so would would violate the international legal principle of non-refoulement, which means sending refugees or asylum seekers into danger.
The international rights’ groups said the Sri Lankan government should state clearly that any domestic communal attacks on these people would not be tolerated.
Further, it was important for authorities to stress that all attacks on refugees and asylum seekers in Sri Lanka would be investigated with a view to prosecuting alleged offenders.
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Sri Lanka was also asked by the foreign rights’ organisations to help expedite resettlement of some of the refugees to third countries.
Mob attacked shops
Amid heightened communal tensions, several Muslim shops were allegedly attacked May 5, sparked by a dispute involving the driver of a three-wheeled tuk tuk taxi and a group of villagers near Negombo.
St. Sebastian’s Church in the town, 40 kilometers north of Colombo, was one of three churches and three hotels hit by jihadist suicide bombers on Easter Sunday.
On May 12, a mob attacked shops owned by Muslims in the western coastal town of Chilaw.
A curfew was imposed till 4 a.m. the following day and a Muslim man accused of posting racially charged content on social media was arrested.
Some refugees fearing for their safety took refuge in police stations or mosques.
While government schools from grade 6 and up were re-opened on May 6, church run schools remained closed.
Many churches conducted Sunday Masses, with tight security precautions in place, but most Sunday schools for children were cancelled.
Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, who declined a government offer for him to use a bullet-proof vehicle, assured ordinary Muslims that the Church stood against any revenge attacks on them.
“We are not against you and we will not allow any harassment to be caused to you from our faithful,” Cardinal Ranjith assured Muslims.