Sri Lanka

Remember Sri Lanka on refugee day

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As the world commemorates Refugee Day on June 20, Muslim Aid is calling on the world to remember the plight of those fleeing the civil war in Sri Lanka.

"According to the United Nations, there are 10 million refugees and 13 million Internally Displaced People (IDPs), not including the five million Palestinians who are both refugees and displaced in their own land," said Amjad Mohammed Saleem, country director of Muslim Aid Sri Lanka. "These figures make grim reading when in Sri Lanka alone, the numbers of IDPs have been rising since April 2006 and have reached 300,000 at the end of last year. This is unacceptable."

They are in addition to the 200,000 already displaced by the civil war. With continuous displacement, people find it increasingly difficult to sustain the attention of a war-weary public and a cash-strapped donor community.

In the Puttalam District, IDPs from the north are languishing in refugee camps and temporary shelters for the last 17 years, after having been subjected to various forms of harassment and forcibly chased out of their homes. After 17 years, a new generation born in Puttalam only know the refugee camps and nothing more.

"This is shameful," said Amjad Mohammed Saleem. "These 'forgotten people' of Puttalam, their plight and the circumstances surrounding displacement continues to be an embarrassment to all people who value human dignity and justice. Let us not forget that to be a refugee, or internally displaced person, is to live at the margins of society, excluded from political or social importance. For such a man or woman life has only become a period of waiting, dependent on another's decisions."

Muslim Aid has taken the decision to renew its responsibility to IDPs in their time of need on this particular day, and to remember that they have a right to return to their homes and live in safety.

"Their children have a right to education and a right to pursue careers of their choice and contribute to the development of this country," said Amjad Mohammed Saleem. "This is an inalienable right of every human being. The world cannot sustain or remain silent about the displacement of people from their homes as a result of conflicts, and in the same breath everything should be done to ensure that those who suffer such displacement are treated humanely and returned to their homes as quickly as possible."

On June 26, Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Stephen Timms MP will host senior representatives from UK-based Muslim Aid and U.S.-based United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR). Both parties will sign a partnership agreement that could result in approximately £7.5m in direct relief to disaster, war and conflict-ridden areas of the world, including Sri Lanka and Indonesia. This is in addition to £5m already applied in Sri Lanka, all totalling £12.5m.

This inter-religious partnership will mean maximum response to global disasters, enhanced economic and social development, and, as Muslim Aid and UMCOR hope, a new peace-building model based on cross cultural understanding.