Rohingya refugee attack : Extremists in another botched attempt | Sunday Observer

Rohingya refugee attack : Extremists in another botched attempt

An indiscriminately dumped garbage bag near Templers Road, Mt.Lavinia last week almost led to an intense communal clash between the Sinhalese and Muslims.

The masses refused to fall into the extremists’ provocations and act mindlessly but the siege left enough room to tarnish the image of the vast majority of peace loving Buddhists in the country.

The incident erupted when residents near Templers Road took up an issue of dumping garbage by certain dwellers of a three storey house in Mt.Lavinia, without handing their garbage over to the Municipal truck.

The altercation led to investigations by residents seeking to know who these people were and why they spoke a different language. The news spread fast that the house is inhabited by a group of Rohingya refugees who had fled Myanmar. That is when the situation was hijacked by the extremist elements. The rest is history. Rohingya refugees, fleeing violence in Mayanmar first reached Sri Lankan shores as far back as 2008. A group of 55 men, women and children arrived that year seeking asylum from the UNHCR in Colombo. The group was relocated to a third country in 2013.

Then in 2013, another 101 arrived seeking assistance from the UN Refugee office in Colombo and these refugees were relocated in 2015. Both groups were sent to either Canada or the United States, a spokesperson from the Immigration and Emigration Department said.

At present there are four Rohingyas who arrived here in 2015 in addition to a group of 31 refugees who were intercepted, en route to Australia, by the Navy, in April.

According to the counsel representing the group, Shiraz Noordeen, the refugees from Myanmar arrived in Sri Lanka on April 30. They had been living for the past five years, in South India under the care of UNHCR, the UN Refugee body. When the Indian government recently announced its decision to expel the Myanmar refugees from India citing national security concerns, the group, out of desperation sought the help of people smugglers to travel to Australia. The men agreed to take them on the perilous sea voyage but for a handsome payment.

India’s Central Government recently proposed to deport the Myanmar refugees who had breached the border to infiltrate India, stating the Rohingyas had links with the Islamic State and the presence of thousands of Rohingyas from Rhakine state who had illegally entered its land was a ‘serious national security threat’.

The refugees who are currently being looked after by the UNHCR India, have called for individual screening to clear them of IS or any terror links without a deportation en masse. The Indian government reportedly used this screening process on Lankan Tamils who infiltrated South India during the LTTE conflict.

The recent group of Rohingyas who reached Sri Lanka arrived in India’s port city of Nagappattinam late April from where they set off to Australia in a rickety boat manned by two Indians. But, the long perilous journey was not meant to be. The boat developed mechanical trouble off the northern Sri Lankan seas and started drifting towards the land. A Navy surveillance craft intercepted the boat and handed over the illegal immigrants to the Kankasanthurai (KKS) police. Later, the two Indian people smugglers and the 30 asylum seekers were produced before the Mallakam Magistrate and remanded. One woman who was pregnant at the time gave birth to a girl increasing the number of the refugees to 31. The two Indians are currently held at the Jaffna prison.

The illegal immigrants were later brought to Colombo, with an order issued by the Mallakam Magistrate to house them at the Mirihana camp, where foreigners without valid visas are detained until their expatriation. Subsequently, with the UNHCR intervention, these refugees were transferred to a safe house in Mt.Lavinia. The transfer was made when a 21 year old girl among the refugees was allegedly raped by a police officer, who was one of the protection officers on duty. A case under B report B/2030/17 has been filed in this regard at the Gangodawila Magistrate’s court.

An international NGO, ‘Muslim Aid,’ headquartered in London, and helping fleeing Rohingya Muslims worldwide came forth to meet the expenses of the refugees until the UNHCR was successful in securing them asylum status in a third country. A house, owned by a businessman in Kalmunai was rented by Muslim Aid for the purpose. This was the house which came under attack last week by misinformed elements and extremists.

Following the attack the refugees were relocated to the Boossa Army camp in Galle. Counsel representing the refugees, Noordeen, said yesterday that the group will be housed at the camp under UNHCR supervision for some time, until their safety is guaranteed. A spokesperson for the Immigration and Emigration Department said, under Sri Lanka’s Immigration and Emigration Act, the country cannot grant refugee or asylum status to foreigners, and the government has not become a party to the UN Convention on Refugees that compels them to look after refugees from conflict zones in other countries.

But, he said, Sri Lanka had been a transit country for a negligible number of cases of Rohingya refugees who were relocated in the US and Canada by the UNHCR in the past. The majority of fleeing Rohingya refugees had arrived in Bangladesh and India.

”We are assisting the UN Refugee body to relocate these refugees in other countries on humanitarian grounds. There are bigger numbers of refugees from Pakistan and Afghanistan in the country, kept under UNHCR care,” the spokesperson told the Sunday Observer. The lawyer representing the refugees said, they have made complaints to the Police Headquarters against the OIC of the Mt.Lavinia police station for failure to provide security to the refugees and a false pretense of being unaware of the existence of the refugee group which led to a serious unrest at the safe house.

The Colombo Crimes Division (CCD) investigating the unrest and the compromise of security at the safe house, on Friday arrested one person at Bambalapitiya.

A senior investigating officer said there would be more arrests of persons including a few in robes, as it was a serious offence to threaten to harm foreigners who were under the protection of UN, and as well as in terms of the their contribution to tarnish the image of the country and Buddhism. The complainants have named Dan Priyasath, Akmeemana Dayaratne Himi, Sinhale Janitha and Amanpola Ratnassara himi for the tumult.

A day after the incident, the UN Secretary General’s spokesperson, at the regular noon briefing at UN office in New York on Wednesday said, the UNHRC was alarmed by the ‘attack’ on a shelter for Rohingya refugees in Sri Lanka. He however, expressed gratitude to the stand taken by the government to provide protection to the group until they are found asylum in a third country.

Since the unrest at Mt.Lavinia, the Secretary, Ministry of Law and Order and Southern Development Ministry, Jagath P. Wijeweera appealed to the public to be calm and warned the rogue elements against any attempts to rouse the people spreading false propaganda. The Muslim Council of Sri Lanka too wrote to the Prime Minister for his intervention.

Pix: Dehiwala-Mt.Lavinia Sp. Cor Ashraf A. Samad