Amnesty calls on govt. to offer safer refugee shelters | Daily News

Amnesty calls on govt. to offer safer refugee shelters

Around 1,100 stranded, 15 expectant mothers among them

Amnesty International has requested the government to consider the deplorable conditions where nearly 1,100 refugees are living in Negombo after being forced to flee their homes following mobs in the aftermath of the Easter Sunday terror attacks.

In a statement, Amnesty International South Asia Director Biraj Patnaik said, “These are people who have been dispossessed twice now because of their backgrounds. They had hoped to find safety in Sri Lanka after fleeing the violence of bigoted mobs in their own countries. Now, they are faced with the same fears that forced them here, leaving them unable to leave their shelters where they languish in dire conditions.”

“The Sri Lankan government has a responsibility to ensure that these people have their dignity restored immediately. They need security to protect them, food to eat, doctors to meet their health needs, comfortable places to sleep, and clean places where men and women can safely and separately bathe and use sanitation facilities,” Patnaik stated.

The refugees include Ahmadi Muslims, Shi’as and Christians from Pakistan, Shi’a Hazaras from Afghanistan, as well as political refugees from Iran and Pakistan. Amnesty estimates that there are 1,100 refugees who need to be relocated to safer places with better living conditions.

“There was a group of men who came, some of them carrying sticks with nails in them. Some of them were drunk,” Naseem John, a 57-year-old Pakistani Catholic from Karachi, told Amnesty International. “They said that we are Pakistanis and that we had to leave the area within two hours. We said that we are also Catholics, like the victims killed in the church. They said, ‘It doesn’t matter, you’re still Pakistani. You have to leave’,” he added.

Asylum-seekers from Afghanistan and Pakistan told Amnesty International that, in several cases, their landlords intervened and pleaded the mobs not to attack their tenants, and then helped their tenants leave.

Some Ahmadi Muslim women said that they had to leave in a sudden panic and, out of fear, were not even able to take their scarves and other clothing with them.

In the temporary shelters where they have sought safety, refugees are living in overcrowded and unsanitary conditions without reliable access to basic services. They all sleep on hard floors, with a thin plastic sheet or bedsheet under them, with no space to even turn. Those who are out in the open, sleep on wooden pallets to escape rainwater.

At the police stations and community centres, every family speaks of at least one person who is ill. People are suffering from fever, infections, respiratory illnesses or diarrhea, and, especially among older people, high blood pressure.

There are no adequate health facilities nearby, and the asylum-seekers cannot venture out by themselves. Medical officers visit the temporary shelter, albeit on an ad hoc basis. One group of Pakistani men told Amnesty International that they faced hostility from the Negombo hospital staff.

One mother was forced to give birth at the temporary shelter she was staying at before medical support arrived.

Other women desperately tried to assist with the delivery—but none of them were trained, and they did not have the required medical supplies for childbirth assistance. There are at least 15 pregnant women among the refugees.


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