Lack of facilities adding to stranded refugees’ woes
Pakistani refugees stranded in the Negombo police station are facing difficulties due to lack of toilet and sanitary facilities.
Human rights activist Ruki Fernando told RepublicNext that some 160 refugees residing in the station premises have no adequate toilet facilities, as they’re forced to share the toilets reserved for police officers employed at the station.
Due to a lack of space, the refugees have also been compelled to sleep, quite uncomfortably, in the station’s garage meant for parking vehicles, said Fernando.
Unable to shower due to the limited availability of water, some of the refugees have been wearing the same clothes they arrived in six days ago.
According to Fernando, the number of refugees left stranded in Negombo since the Easter bombings has increased to 1,160 over the past three days.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and a few other civil organisations are providing food, medicine, and other supplies, but police officers through sheer generosity have been helping the refugees as much as possible, said Fernando. Some of the officers brought milk for the younger children, and offered their office fans so the children could sleep comfortably.
The refugees had previously been sent to centres in Colombo, Athurugirya, Moratuwa and Negombo, but as the police could not ensure their protection at the centres and, in the face of threats from various parties, they kept on returning to the Negombo police station.
Commenting on the situation at the mosques, Fernando said that that too has become worse as facilities in the mosques are also limited as they are places built solely for the purpose of worship.
Referring to discussions reportedly had by the Government regarding the state of the refugees, he said the authorities have not come forward to provide the hapless refugees with some kind of relief. Nor have they ensured their legal existence so that they can return to the places they were living in without any threats.
Fernando noted that the Government could make use of rehabilitation centres in the country’s North which have adequate facilities for the stranded refugees to stay in until the situation in Negombo is brought under control. However, the President has not yet granted permission to do so.
A majority of the refugees are Ahmadiyya Muslims, while the rest are Sheikh Muslims and Christians. By the end of 2017, according to UNHCR statistics, there were 46,766 refugees in Sri Lanka and, out of them, 91.9 per cent were Internally Displaced People (IDPs).