In Sri Lanka there are 800 refugees from Pakistan, Rohingya from Myanmar, Afghans, Syrians and Yemenis. The probable closure, or in any case the reduction, of the headquarters of the UN body feeds the uncertainties about its future. Most have been suspended in limbo for years, without work or education for their children.
Colombo () – A group of refugees entrusted to the care of UNHCR took to the streets on May 23 with the aim of reactivating, but above all accelerating “the process of relocation to a third country” and avoiding further suffering. A demonstration gathered outside the UN agency’s Colombo agency headquarters to raise awareness among local authorities and the international community about their fate, which has long been suspended in limbo. “Make a decision as quickly as possible – read one banner – and don’t send us back to certain death.”
Leading the protest was a group of Pakistani refugees who have lived on the island for years and are still waiting in vain for a permanent destination. According to estimates by activist Ruki Fernando, there are currently about 800 refugees in Sri Lanka, mostly from Pakistan, Afghanistan and the Rohingya from Myanmar, as well as groups from Yemen, Syria and Nigeria. Most of them live in Negombo, Panadura, Dehiwela and Mount Lavinia.
The protesters wanted to remind society that “refugees are human beings, not numbers. Tell us where we can live”, as one of the many banners says. Another states that “If you send us back, you are violating our right to live” and also “Don’t separate the refugees into communities. We are all equal and deserve dignity and respect.” Some have spared no direct attacks against the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, who “must end up leaving us waiting for an answer” that has not come for years.
“For the UNHCR – a protester from Pakistan told – we are not a priority, but how long do we have to wait? We have been in Sri Lanka for seven years now. We have had enough, we want justice”.
A second woman, also Pakistani, says she has been in Sri Lanka for 10 years and still has no secure prospects for the future or a country to go to. “We can’t work here. Our children do not go to school and have no education, ”she denounces, adding that the biggest fear is“ that the UNHCR office will close soon ”and“ without your help, what will become of us? ”, she asks. desperate. Another refugee from Pakistan tells that his father died while waiting in vain to go to another country, that his mother suffers from diabetes and that his 14-year-old son is also hypertensive and survives thanks to the medicines he takes in the morning and at night. . “Please – exclaims the man – send us to a third world country. We can’t work here. And it is very difficult to buy groceries. Food, medicine and house rent are very high. We can’t live here.”
“One of the things that these people are asking for -explains the activist Ruki Fernando- is that the decision be made as soon as possible. Some have been waiting for years for a definitive settlement. That means they don’t know if they will get asylum or not.” Their fears, fears and uncertainty about the future have increased with the news that UNHCR officials themselves anticipated about a possible closure of the UN headquarters or, in any case, a sharp reduction in aid.