Indian Christians urge help for Sri Lankan refugees

|PIC1|Tamil Christians in India are supporting nearly 300,000 Tamil refugees in Sri Lanka who have been in temporary camps for the past six months.

The refugees, many of them Christians, were displaced by the conflict between Sri Lankan army and the Tamil militants, the Liberation Tamil Tiger Eelam (LTTE), which came to an end in May this year after 26 years.

In a memorandum submitted to the government of India, Tamil Christians in India said, “Thousands are dying of hunger and difficulties in the refugee camps”.

They have asked the consent of federal government to press for an intervention of NGOs to work in the refugee camps and offer basic assistance to the refugees as well as protection of their dignity and human rights, reports FIDES.

Several humanitarian organisations have denounced the abuse and violence suffered by the Tamil youth and women in the refugee camps, where shortages in food, water and healthcare have compounded problems.

Human Rights Watch condemned the detention of the refugees in the camps on Tuesday. It said, “World leaders should call on the Sri Lankan government to immediately release more than 260,000 displaced persons illegally confined in detention camps.”

They sent a letter to world leaders in New York for the United Nations General Assembly and at the G20 economic summit in Pittsburgh this week, pressing for action to help the refugees.

“The civilians locked up in these detention camps have a right to liberty now, not when the government gets around to it,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch.

“World leaders should support calls from the UN to restore full freedom of movement to these people, who already have suffered mightily from war and displacement.”

The call prompted Walter Kaelin, a UN human rights expert, to visit Sri Lanka's military-run detention camps on Friday. The UN is yet to make a statement on the plight of the refugees.

Sri Lanka's government has come under intense pressure from human rights groups and foreign governments to free the ethnic Tamils detained in the camps.
Soldiers from the army suspect the infiltration of Tamil Tiger guerrillas in the camps.

According to the UN, there are currently 264,583 internally displaced persons in the camps and hospitals, while fewer than 12,000 have been released or returned home.

Human Rights Watch said that recent government claims that a large number of camp residents had been released were false.

It says, “A statement published on the website of the Ministry of Defence on September 12, claimed that the government released nearly 10,000 persons from the camps to their hometowns the previous day.

“However, it later emerged that they had been transferred to camps in their home districts, where they are undergoing further screening by the authorities,” it said.

According to Human Rights Watch, the Sri Lankan armed forces have indicated that the additional screening could take up to six months, even though each individual has already been registered and screened several times and cleared for release.

Many Christian schools in the state of Tamil Nadu in India closed earlier in the month to protest what they called “the inhumane treatment of the Tamil in Sri Lanka”, according to FIDES.