Refugees, asylum seekers harassed in Sri Lanka after Easter Sunday blasts

A majority of them are Pakistani Christians living in Negombo, where landlords have been pressed to evict them

April 28, 2019 05:40 pm | Updated 07:03 pm IST - Colombo

A view of the damage at St. Sebastian Catholic Church on April 22, 2019, a day after bomb blasts ripped through churches and luxury hotels on Easter, in Negombo, Sri Lanka.

A view of the damage at St. Sebastian Catholic Church on April 22, 2019, a day after bomb blasts ripped through churches and luxury hotels on Easter, in Negombo, Sri Lanka.

Nearly 1,600 refugees from about 15 countries, mostly from Pakistan, are facing threats and have been attacked in Sri Lanka following the Easter Sunday bombings which killed over 250 people, an official said on Sunday.

Sri Lanka on Sunday marked a week since the coordinated blasts hit three churches and three luxury hotels, killing 253 people and injuring over 500 others.

The Islamic State (ISIS) terror group has claimed the April 21 coordinated blasts, but the government has blamed local Islamist extremist group National Thowheeth Jamaath (NTJ) for the attack.

There are about 1,600 refugees from about 15 countries and from various religious beliefs. They had arrived here to avoid persecution in their own countries. A majority of them are Pakistani Christians, a welfare official working with the refugees, said.

A majority of them were living in the western coastal town of Negombo where one of the churches, St Sebastian’s, came under attack by an ISIS-linked suicide bomber.

“They have come under attack and threats, some of them have been subject to physical violence. Their landlords have been pressed to evict them,” the official said.

The moves to shift them elsewhere have been met with resistance by respective local politicians.

“At least 4 times they had been taken in buses out of Negombo only to be brought back due to protests,” the official said.

He said the State protection for them and collaboration with the UN refugee agency were important.

“The government’s public commitment is needed to explain the temporary nature of their stay and why we need to support and protect them,” the official said.

Sporadic cases of anti-Muslim violence have been reported since the blasts.

A large number of Christian devotees from the Negombo area were killed in the St. Sebastian’s Church attack. A timely intervention by the head of Catholic Church Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith calmed the situation.

All Sunday masses were canceled due to the volatile security situation, resulting in one main mass by Cardinal Ranjith, the first Sunday since the attacks.

A total of 106 suspects, including a Tamil medium teacher and a school principal, have been arrested in connection with the Easter Sunday blasts, the police said.

Nine suicide bombers carried out a series of devastating blasts that tore through three churches and three luxury hotels on the Easter Sunday.

Sri Lanka on Saturday banned the NTJ and a splinter group linked to the ISIS.

According to Sri Lanka’s Foreign Ministry, the number of foreign nationals who have been identified as killed remained at 40, including 11 from India.

Sri Lanka has a population of 21 million which is a patchwork of ethnicities and religions, dominated by the Sinhalese Buddhist majority.

Muslims account for 10% of the population and are the second-largest minority after Hindus. Around 7% of Sri Lankans are Christians.

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