Lankan think tank asks government to lift ban on Rohingya refugees

Lankan think tank asks government to lift ban on Rohingya refugees

Colombo Correspondent,
Rohingya stretch their arms out to collect food items distributed by aid agencies near the Balukhali refugee camp in Bangladesh on Sept. 18. Dar Yasin—AP

Days after Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe categorically stated that his government will not admit Rohingya refugees into the country, a pro peace think tank, the National Peace Council of Sri Lanka has appealed to the Sri Lankan government to lift the ban on the entry of Rohingya refugees, taking into account the “intensity of atrocities against men, women and children at unprecedented scale in their native Myanmar.”

“We regret that they have been sent away without being considered as refugees,” NPC said in a statement released in Colombo on Sunday.

“The plight of entire communities of people who have lost their loved ones, homes and properties due to the conflict in Myanmar has a special resonance to us in Sri Lanka.  Due to the ethnic conflict, terrorism and war that last over three decades, we lost over a million of our people who left the country to seek asylum in other parts of the world.”

“The National Peace Council therefore urges the government to reconsider its decision to screen out Rohingyas to prevent them from entering Sri Lanka,” the statement said pointing out that as a member country of the United Nations, Sri Lanka is a signatory to the UN Convention of 1951 pertaining to the status of refugees and has an obligation to take on global responsibilities.

“We believe that just as other countries accepted asylum seekers from our country we need to reciprocate on the basis of humanitarian ideals which we have accepted as a country,” its communiqué said.

Meanwhile, the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress leader Rauff Hakeem has urged an immediate end to violence against the Rohingya people and called for a debate or session in Parliament to explain the position of the Government of Sri Lanka urging for non-violence and peace building in Myanmar.

On Friday Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe told a meeting of the government parliamentary group that the refugees coming to Sri Lanka, such a distance away from their native country of Myanmar, gives rise to suspicion that they are part of an “organized” immigration racket, adding that Rohingya refugees of Myanmar can easily seek refuge in neighboring Bangladesh or Thailand.

“But their coming here indicates that it is an organized effort. Government will not permit such maneuverings,” Wickremesinghe said.

The comments by the Lankan Premier comes in the backdrop of counter demonstrations being held in the island nation, opposing each other’s stand point on the Rohingya Muslim issue in Myanmar where the Sinhala Buddhist majority population and the Muslim minority community see the tragic events in Myanmar as a Muslim-Buddhist issue and not as a humanitarian issue. In the Muslim-majority areas in Sri Lanka’s Eastern Province, Muslims earlier this month began demonstrating against the killing of Rohingyas in Myanmar’s Rakhine State. Muslim leaders in the capital city of Colombo, including those in the ruling United National Party (UNP), took up the issue subsequently, demanding international action against the Myanmar government. This led to Buddhist organizations organizing counter protests where several Buddhist organizations marched to the Myanmar High Commission in Colombo demanding that Sri Lanka should not accommodate Rohingya Muslim refugees, who, they alleged, had destroyed Buddhist places of worship and massacred Buddhist monks as well as lay Buddhists.

Prime Minister Wickremesinghe however did not admit that there is an undercurrent of anti-Muslim sentiment among the majority Sinhalese Buddhist community in Sri Lanka which will not permit settlement of Rohingya Muslims in the country. Meanwhile the All Ceylon Jamiyathul Ulama (ACJU) have called upon all Sri Lankans, irrespective of their faith, to see the Rohingya issue as a humanitarian one and not as a “Muslim” issue.