Abbas Ahmadi (33), wife Hakkima (30), and four children aged 12 to 6, came as refugees to Sri Lanka from Afghanistan 5 years ago, were processed by UNHCR and have papers to live here until the UNHCR finds them a country to settle in. This is all with our Foreign Ministry’s consent. Their stay in Sri Lanka is legal.
Following the Easter Day bombings, their world turned upside down. Mobs attacked Muslim refugees and wanted them to leave their neighbourhood. Credible reports say the police encouraged their eviction. When mobs came to attack them the police did not arrest or otherwise deter the rowdy mobs but moved the refugees to camps in police stations and mosques. When the National Christian Council took some refugees into their building, mobs led by monks chased them out. Efforts by Sarvodaya met the same fate.
Only the North seemed quiet. Government made plans to bring them to Chettikulam but some Tamil MPs protested. They seemed to forget that in 2007 Tamils were evicted from Colombo by Gotabaya Rajapaksa saying others in Colombo are unsafe with Tamils around. Now these Tamil MPs are saying the same about Muslims. We forget that Tamils in the tens of thousands live in other countries just like these Muslims and are treated well. The Ahmadis have only temporary sojourn and that also is objected to.
Governor/North, Suren Raghavan, then had this hallucinatory vision of putting them all in Poonthoddam where Tamil refugees who had been driven like cattle by the LTTE as effective hostage shields were accommodated after the war behind barbed wire. The policy seemed so careerist after the President, his appointing authority, wanted other nations to take them over. It seemed designed to make the refugees so discomfited that they would leave Sri Lanka
The Anglican Church
Christians cannot ignore this refugee plight, especially of children. The Bible is very clear about looking after the widows, the children and sojourners in our land, The Anglican Archdeacon of Jaffna appealed to Anglicans privately to host a family each. My wife and I agreed. Rather surprisingly Maravanpulavu Sachithananthan whose Siva Senai put up notices in Jaffna asking people not to vote for Christians, said things sympathetic to the refugees but the editor of a Hindutva newspaper editorialized that if the refugees come North and should something happen to them, those bringing them to Jaffna would be responsible. It was perceived as a threat to harm the refugees. While the hosts were undeterred many refugee families backed out.
HQI Prasad Fernando and Governor Suren Raghavan
Finally one family came, the Ahmadis, on 19 May 2018 to my home. We took them immediately to the Jaffna Police and registered them. HQI Prasad Fernando accepted the registration. That night after 9 pm I received a call to return to the police station the next morning. Fernando returned the papers I had filled up. He claimed intelligence reports that extremist Hindus will attack the refugees. He stood up indicating our meeting was over. DIG Jaffna indicated that Raghvan was insisting that the Ahmadis enter Poonthoddam. We unsuccessfully asked for the rejection in writing.
We were summoned by Raghavan to his office that evening where he ceased to be courteous. The meeting was almost mutually accusatory.
Despite their papers Raghavan insisted that the Ahmadis broke the law by not applying for Asylum in India through which they transited to Colombo. If that were true the Sri Lankan government should have arrested and deported them as the bluffing Governor knows.
Raghavan insisted that the Ahmadis move to Poonthoddam. I said I need to consult lawyers and he gave me till Friday. I asked him to guarantee that no police or army would come home till this grace period is over. He gave me his word in the presence of 5 witnesses.
Gestapo Tactics Begin
The Ahmadis were already upset about the claims of attacks being planned on them. Around 8 pm a police jeep parked in front of my house. Upon realizing its presence when I went to the road, it took off, By then the Ahmadis were in panic. Nobody believed Fernando’s and Raghavan’s claims of an imminent attack. We say the claims are inspired to terrorize us and make the Ahmadis flee. But then, what if it were true? The Ahmadis decided to leave at 9:00 pm. As they were leaving two policemen turned up and waited till the Ahmadis left at 9:20 pm
Raghavan’s were clearly Nazi Gestapo tactics, well emulated by our police and army which usually come at night to drive fear into us. Raghavan shamelessly broke his solemn word and used Gestapo tactics to make the Ahmadis run. He had no heart and wanted little children confined in his concentration camp.
Respectability to Rogues
Rogues always need respectability. It is a human need, When rogues hold high office, the public also seeking respectability invite them to their functions. The ethIcs of it is never discussed because many people play this game to different degrees, to be seen themselves as important.
This morning our family had a function where a memorial hostel for school girls in want was to be opened. Generous donations ensured free board, school fees and transport to the poor inmates. Our Bishop of Colombo had come and he was joined by the Bishop in Jaffna and the Vicar General of the Bishop of Jaffna in blessings and invocatory prayers. Many of Jaffna’s big wigs were present.
Sharp at 8:00 am, a siren and a convoy. Alighting, to my great shock were HQI Fernando and Governor Raghavan. Raghavan raised the national flag and stood erect for the national anthem.
Irony was that the twosome were pretending to care for the welfare of the girl children occupants – even as the they both were consigning poor children certified as deserving of asylum to their concentration camp. The irony was not lost on other participants who informed me that Raghavan was pushing for housing that had been callously taken over by the army (and now ready to be returned to the rightful owners) to be added as part of his extended concentration camp. It betrays a mindset of taking over other people’s property in an abuse of authority in a vain attempt to show the President that he had solved the problem of refugees where others had failed.
I was so worked up about the smug pretentiousness of the Governor and his sidekick HQI in starting stories blackening Jaffna’s name to achieve their political and careerist ends, that I was mulling if I should greet them with a Gestapo salute of “Sieg Heil.” What held me back was that my relatives would be quite upset. Fortunately the Jekyll and Hyde pair took off immediately after the national anthem probably seeking more respectability elsewhere.
Narrow Escape from Trauma for the Ahmadi Children
Thank God that the Ahmadis left Jaffna this 21st morning and have found temporary accommodation for three days. The Poonthoddam Camp (with 19 Pakistani and 16Afghan youths) in Vavuniya was attacked around 2:00 pm with rods and batons today by Sinhalese goons led by monks, and Sinhalese Pradeshya Sabha Members from Vavuniya with no Tamil reported among goons. The Police guards are incapable of shooting Sinhalese, especially monks. Fortunately, as reporters on ground inform me, there were 10 or so soldiers also as part of the guard. They summoned more solders who vowed to open fire and thereby controlled the goons.
Imagine the trauma for the Ahmadi children if the Fernando-Raghavan pair had had their way and they faced the mob. The only option open to us seems to be to get judicial intervention to let the children live peacefully in Jaffna till UNHCR can relocate them.
There is no Tamil out to attack the refugees although the authorities badly to want to tarbrush Tamils at a time when the South has gone out of control.
Propaganda Machine in Overdrive
A Section of the Government’s propaganda machine is in overdrive. Raghavan untruthfully claims that the Ahmadis are illegal. The authorities are holding up the delimitation report thereby preventing provincial elections. This lets governors usurp the powers of provincial councils and stooge for their master in exchange for privileges. Tamil Congress Lawyer Suhaas said I am illegally accommodating them. A good Sinhalese friend called me at 10:20 pm saying Sirasa TV said something similar and asked me if it is true.
It is no longer just a fight for the well-being of refugees. It is a fight for our fundamental right to keep law abiding people we choose as our guests at home, and it is a fight for the truth, to be free of politicians who tarnish the good names of law abiding Tamils and Sinhalese who care, and to uphold our democracy, as an attempt is being made to claim falsely that there is so much chaos so as perhaps to dispense with presidential elections.
I challenge the Gestapo to stop hiding behind “state secrets” and show us with proof that they are not creating this story of attacks on refugees in the North to achieve their political object. As I told Raghavan, when politicians raise the spectre of terror, it is usually to rob us of our freedoms as he is doing. We civilians must ensure that we distribute all power into atomized centers. When the police tell us to eject our visitors and we meekly obey, we lose our rights, making the police our lords. We are a democracy, not a police-cracy.