More than 1,000 refugees, mainly Ahmadi Muslims from Pakistan, under police protection
Ahmadi refugees from Pakistan at the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community Centre in Pasyala, Sri Lanka, . Photograph: Reuters/Thomas Peter
There is growing concern in Sri Lanka for the welfare of hundreds of refugees who have been targeted by mob violence in the wake of last week’s Islamic State terror attack.
More than 1,000 refugees, mainly Ahmadi Muslims who had sought asylum in Sri Lanka in recent years having fled persecution in Pakistan, are now under police protection in mosques and other buildings as communal tensions rise, according to local human rights observers.
The country is still reeling from bomb blasts on Easter Sunday that killed over 250 people, and injured over 400 others, with terrorists targeting churches and luxury hotels.
Political and religious leaders appealed for unity and peace on Sunday as they attended a televised Mass in the capital Colombo. However, human rights activists have reported increased attacks and harassment of migrants, especially Pakistani Ahmadis but also Christian, Shia, Sunni and atheist refugees.
The attacks and threats are “continuous”, according to one local observer who said yet another refugee family had on Saturday been forced out of their home into a police station, leaving their belongings behind.
Some 1,600 refugees and asylum seekers are registered with United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and “in the last few years they have been living in peace, with no major incidents”, said Ruki Fernando, a Colombo-based human rights activist linked to the Irish NGO Front Line Defenders.
But since the Easter bombings there has been an outbreak of threats and violence and hundreds of people have sought shelter in two mosques and a police station – all kept under police guard.
While it was relatively calm on Saturday, Mr Fernando said “police are not yet in a position to guarantee security”. Nor were proper living conditions available to the refugees.
“The state has to take responsibility to provide security, and they have to look at long-term solutions.”