English Bishops condemn conditions in Sri Lanka camps

[TamilNet, Wednesday, 16 September 2009, 02:31 GMT]
Two English Catholic bishops who recently returned from Sri Lanka are calling for the end of forced confinement of nearly 300,000 Tamil survivors of the government’s final offensive against the Tamil Tigers. Bishop John Rawsthorne of Sheffield and Bishop John Arnold of Westminster have just returned from an eight day tour of the country, where they were looking at work of CAFOD with partner Caritas Sri Lanka. A report by the Independent Catholic News (ICN) quoted the Bishops noting the “serious overcrowding and inadequate food and health services” in the camps and the need to hold the Sri Lankan government to account.



TheBishops gained access to the camps in the north of the country, met people who have been released and also priests and nuns who have been allowed to work in the camps providing food, health and education.

Bishop John Rawsthorne said: “I was very distressed at the plight of the people in the camps. There is serious overcrowding and inadequate food and health services. The monsoon season will soon be upon them and could be disastrous for the hundreds of thousands of people stuck there. Even with the recent rains, some people lost the meagre possessions they had.”

“CAFOD’s partners are deeply involved in the humanitarian relief work in the camps and I was also greatly encouraged by the way in which the Church is responding both in a humanitarian way and in calling for people to be allowed to go home.

"This is a country which had had to deal with the dreadful consequences of the tsunami and is now in the aftermath of a conflict which has left about 300,000 people confined in camps. It is unacceptable and these people must be allowed to return to their villages as quickly as possible.

"The generosity of Catholics in England and Wales, through CAFOD, is producing heartfelt results and will continue to do so as people begin to return home and rebuild their lives.”

Bishop John Arnold said: “People do not want to be in the camps. They want to be allowed home and to be reunited with their families. The Sri Lankan Government originally set a target for 80 per cent of people to be released within 180 days. 90 days have already passed and we must hold the Government to account on its promises.

"According to the commander of one of the camps we visited, what is stopping the people’s release is the vast number of mines and unexploded ordnance in areas they want to go home to but also the Government’s screening programme to check for Tamil Tigers combatants.

“There are some moves to release the most vulnerable, such as the elderly, orphans and pregnant women. The Church is working with the Sri Lankan Government to offer alternative solutions and allow early release.

"It is gloomy but there are chinks of light. Seeing the successful tsunami work that has taken place and where communities are rebuilding and looking to the future was inspiring. There are many hopeful signs for the building of peace. But is clear the journey to lasting peace will be a long one.”

CAFOD’s International Director Geoff O’Donoghue, who travelled with the Bishops, said: “The Sri Lankan Government has just announced that relatives or friends of those in the camps can now apply to accommodate them, but we’re concerned about how this might work. If it meant an extension of the screening process to host families, that would be counter-productive.

“Through the work done by Caritas Sri Lanka, there have been some improvements to the camps, but the best way forward is for the Sri Lankan Government to stick to its original 180-day commitment to release 80 percent of the displaced people in the camps.

"Already this has slipped, and now President Rajapakse is saying only 60% may be possible within the stated time frame."

 

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