Abbas Ahmadi (33), wife Hakkima (30), and four children aged 12 to 6, came as refugees to Sri Lanka from Afghanistan 5 years ago. Their cases were processed by UNHCR hence they have papers to live here until the UNHCR finds them a country to settle in. All this was with the consent of the Sri Lanka Foreign Ministry. Their stay in Sri Lanka is legal.
The Ahmadi Family
Following the Easter Sunday Day bombings, their world turned upside down. Mobs attacked Muslim refugees and wanted them to leave their neighbourhoods. Credible reports say that the police encouraged their eviction. When mobs came to attack them the police did not arrest or otherwise deter the rowdy mobs, but moved the refugees to camps in police stations and mosques. When the National Christian Council took some refugees into their building, mobs led by monks chased them out. Efforts by Sarvodaya met the same fate.
Only the North seemed quiet. The Government made plans to bring them to Chettikulam, but some Tamil MPs protested. They seemed to forget that in 2007 Tamils were allegedly evicted from Colombo by State authorities saying that others in Colombo are unsafe with Tamils around. Now these Tamil MPs are saying the same about Muslims.
Governor/North, Suren Raghavan, then had this hallucinatory vision of putting them all in Poonthoddam where Tamil refugees, who had been driven like cattle by the LTTE as effective hostage shields, were accommodated after the war behind barbed wire. The policy seemed so careerist after the President, his appointing authority, wanted other nations to take them over. It seemed designed to make the refugees so discomfited that they would leave Sri Lanka
Despite their papers Raghavan insisted that the Ahmadis broke the law by not applying for Asylum in India through which they transited to Colombo
The authorities are holding up the delimitation report thereby preventing provincial elections
Thank God that the Ahmadis left Jaffna on May 21 morning and have found temporary accommodation for three days
The Anglican Church
Christians cannot ignore this refugee plight, especially of children. The Bible is very clear about looking after the widows, the children and sojourners in our land, The Anglican Archdeacon of Jaffna appealed to Anglicans privately to host a family each. My wife and I agreed. Rather surprisingly Maravanpulavu Sachithananthan whose Siva Senai put up notices in Jaffna asking people not to vote for Christians, said things sympathetic to the refugees but the editor of a Hindutva newspaper editorialized that if the refugees come North and should something happen to them, those bringing them to Jaffna would be responsible.
HQI and Governor
Finally one family came, the Ahmadis, on 19 May 2018 to my home. We took them immediately to the Jaffna Police and registered them. HQI Prasad Fernando accepted the registration. That night after 9 pm I received a call to return to the police station the next morning. Fernando returned the papers I had filled up. He claimed intelligence reports that extremist Hindus would attack the refugees. He stood up indicating our meeting was over. DIG Jaffna indicated that Raghvan was insisting that the Ahmadis enter Poonthoddam. We unsuccessfully asked for the rejection in writing.
We were summoned by Raghavan to his office that evening where he ceased to be courteous.
Despite their papers Raghavan insisted that the Ahmadis broke the law by not applying for Asylum in India through which they transited to Colombo. If that were true the Government of Sri Lanka should have arrested and deported them as the bluffing Governor knows.
Raghavan insisted that the Ahmadis move to Poonthoddam. I asked him to guarantee that no police or army would come home till this grace period is over.
The Ahmadis were already unsettled about the claims of attacks being planned on them. Around 8 pm a police jeep was parked in front of my house. It took off. By then the Ahmadis were in panic. The Ahmadis decided to leave at 9:00 pm.
Raghavan’s were clearly Nazi Gestapo tactics, well emulated by our police and army which usually come at night to drive fear into us. Raghavan shamelessly broke his solemn word and used Gestapo tactics to make the Ahmadis run.
Respectability to Rogues
Rogues always need respectability. It is a human need, When rogues hold high office, the public also seeking respectability invite them to their functions. The ethics of it is never discussed because many people play this game to different degrees, to be seen themselves as important.
This morning our family had a function where a memorial hostel for schoolgirls in want was to be opened. Our Bishop of Colombo had come and he was joined by the Bishop in Jaffna and the Vicar General of the Bishop of Jaffna. Many of Jaffna’s big wigs were present.
Sharp at 8:00 am, there were the sounds of a siren and the arrival of a convoy. It was HQI Fernando and Governor Raghavan. Raghavan raised the national flag and stood erect for the national anthem.
Irony was that the twosome were pretending to care for the welfare of the girl children occupants – even as both were consigning poor children certified as deserving of asylum to their concentration camp. The irony was not lost on other participants who informed me that Raghavan was pushing for housing that had been callously taken over by the army (and now ready to be returned to the rightful owners) to be added as part of his extended concentration camp. It betrays a mindset of taking over other people’s property in an abuse of authority in a vain attempt to show the President that he had solved the problem of refugees where others had failed.
What held me back was that my relatives would be quite upset. Fortunately the Jekyll and Hyde pair took off immediately after the national anthem.
Narrow Escape from Trauma for the Ahmadi Children
Thank God that the Ahmadis left Jaffna on May 21 morning and have found temporary accommodation for three days. The Poonthoddam Camp (with 19 Pakistani and 16 Afghan youth) in Vavuniya was attacked around 2:00 pm with rods and batons yesterday by Sinhalese goons led by monks, and Sinhalese Pradeshya Sabha Members from Vavuniya with no Tamil reported among the goons. The Police guards are incapable of shooting Sinhalese, especially monks.
The only option open to us seems to be to get judicial intervention to let the children live peacefully in Jaffna till UNHCR can relocate them.
Propaganda machine in overdrive
A Section of the Government’s propaganda machine is in overdrive. Raghavan untruthfully claims that the Ahmadis are illegal. The authorities are holding up the delimitation report thereby preventing provincial elections. This lets governors usurp the powers of provincial councils and stooge for their master in exchange for privileges. Tamil Congress Lawyer Suhaas said I am illegally accommodating them. A good Sinhalese friend called me at 10:20 pm saying that one private TV channel said something similar and asked me if it is true.
It is no longer just a fight for the well-being of refugees. It is a fight for our fundamental right to keep law abiding people we choose as our guests at home, and it is a fight for the truth, to be free of politicians who tarnish the good names of law abiding Tamils and Sinhalese who care, and to uphold our democracy, as an attempt is being made to claim falsely that there is so much chaos so as perhaps to dispense with presidential elections.