Refugees - The bitter truth | Daily News


World Refugee Day fell on June 20

Refugees - The bitter truth

Kurdish refugees travel by truck between their mountain campsites and tent cities established by military personnel.
Kurdish refugees travel by truck between their mountain campsites and tent cities established by military personnel.

Just before May 18th in 2018, a Sri Lankan woman who is married to a US citizen asked me a question. “Why are you not trying to immigrate to US stating that your life is in danger because of the Sri Lankan Government ?”. Since you are a journalist, you can do this very easily and you can get the US citizenship very easily without any trouble. I replied her - yes my life is in danger because of the remnants of the LTTE and not because of the Sri Lankan Government. The Sri Lankan Government protects my life. So why should I lie to go to US while having all the safety, employment, family etc here ? She went back to US after her short stay in Sri Lanka. I still remember how journalists from various countries in the world tried their best and stayed in Sweden after following a Masters Degree Programme while a very few including myself returned to the Motherlands.

As of January 2018, Sri Lanka had 822 refugees and 628 asylum-seekers from other countries. Statistics indicate that there are 132,782 Sri Lankan refugees and 14,008 Sri Lankan asylum-seekers in other countries, mainly in India. This means refugees arrive in Sri Lanka from other countries in the world while some Sri Lankans go to other countries as asylum seekers. What is behind this situation ? What is the real picture ?

All Sri Lankans remember very well the `Rohingya refugees’ and the series of incidents that took place in Sri Lanka. The Government which was in power in 2017 only respected and justified the rights of the Rohingya Refugees who arrived and stayed in Sri Lanka. But the Government failed to respect the right of the Sri Lankans to protest. The protesters were labeled as `mobs’, `thugs’ etc. It did not stop there. Bhikkus were harassed and insulted calling them thugs in yellow robes. The popular words used by the previous regime all the time, `democracy’, `rights’ `freedom of expression’ etc were not heard during that time.

Sri Lanka has not ratified the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees (the “1951 Convention”) or its 1967 Protocol, and also lacks national legislation. Therefore there is no issue for the 2017 Government to protect the rights of Sri Lankans who protested against ‘Rohingya refugees’. The reasons given by the Sri Lankan protestors who staged protests against those refugees were percent proved with 2019 Easter Sunday Suicide attack series which killed over 350 Sri Lankans while injuring over 500.

Actually the so-called `Rohingya refugees’ are Bengalis as named by Myanmar. They are a Muslim ethnic minority concentrated in Myanmar’s Rakhine State. They make up about 3 percent of the total population in a country where Buddhists constitute nearly 90 percent. Violence in the region escalated on August 25, 2017, when militants known as the Arakan Rohingya Solidarity Army (ARSA) attacked an army outpost and killed 12 officials.

The position of the Myanmar Government is that Rohingyas are not a national “indigenous race”, but are illegal immigrants from neighbouring Bangladesh. It argues that the Muslims of pre-colonial times are now recognized as Kameins and that the Rohingya conflate their history with the history of all Muslims in Rakhine State to advance a separatist agenda. In addition, Myanmar’s government does not recognize the term “Rohingya” and prefers to refer to the community as “Bangali”. Rohingya campaign groups, notably the Arakan Rohingya National Organization, demand the right to “self-determination within Myanmar”. In the 1990s, the Myanmar Government changed the name of the province of Arakan to Rakhine State considering the historical entities.

The term refugee is often used in different contexts: in everyday usage it refers to a forcibly displaced person who has fled their country of origin; in a more specific context it refers to such a person who was, on top of that, granted refugee status in the country the person fled to.

A refugee, generally speaking, is a displaced person who has been forced to cross national boundaries and who cannot return home safely. Such a person may be called an asylum seeker until granted refugee status by the contracting state or the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) if they formally make a claim for asylum. The lead international agency coordinating refugee protection is the United Nations Office of the UNHCR. The United Nations has a second Office for refugees, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), which is solely responsible for supporting the large majority of Palestinian refugees.

Palestine people were not originally refugees. They lived in their own land. But when World War I ended in 1918, the British took control of Palestine. The League of Nations issued a British mandate for Palestine, a document that gave Britain the responsibility of establishing a Jewish national homeland in Palestine which went into effect in 1923. In 1947, the United Nations proposed a plan to partition Palestine into two sections: an independent Jewish state and an independent Arab state, with Jerusalem as internationalized territory. Since the partition, gradually the people of Palestine were pushed into the Gaza Strip. This is what really happened in history.

But the reality is far away from those terms, definitions and descriptions. The reality is bitter and no International Organization or an NGO talks about this bitter truth. Usually this type of discussion is poisonous for the Governments and organizations which support the sugar coated cake of refugees and asylum seekers.

Many refugees and asylum seekers have fled their countries in order to gain wealth, not fearing for their lives. May be there are instances where certain threats exist but most of the time it is not so. The other truth is that a majority of them can return to their motherlands once the problems are solved but no one wishes to return. It is same with the asylum seekers. They ever never return to their motherlands once established in a rich Western country. The ‘struggle’ for separate countries, separate states, separate provinces are not as genuine as they look. Most of the time there are external elements (individuals and NGOs) which gain something through such conflicts and breaking up a country into pieces. There are so called scholars within then country who gain millions of dollars and other benefits through the same. Providing arms for never ending conflicts is another lucrative business of certain countries. For all these they need never ending conflicts.

On 4 December 2000, the United Nations General Assembly in Resolution 55/76 decided that, from 2000, 20 June would be celebrated as World Refugee Day. Each year on June 20 the United Nations, United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and various organisations around the world host World Refugee Day events in order to draw the public’s attention to the millions of refugees and Internally displaced persons worldwide who flee their homes due to war, conflicts etc. The annual commemoration is marked by a variety of events in more than 100 countries, involving government officials, humanitarian aid workers, celebrities, civilians and the displaced themselves.

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