Sri Lanka: six priests held in solitary confinement in refugee camps

makeshift camps

makeshift camps

Six Catholic priests are being kept in isolation in the refugee camps camps of Sri Lanka. The bishop of Jaffna has requested their release, but has not yet received any response from the Ministry of Defense. A humanitarian worker working in the fields in which 300,000  displaced persons live has told their story and  is also denouncing the disappearance of three government doctors who had circulated the figures of the dead during the last days of war between the army and Tamil Tigers. There is no news of their fate.

The aid worker said: "The Government of Sri Lanka should immediately release the six Catholic priests who were imprisoned and kept in secret solitary confinement in centres for Internally displaced persons (IDPs). Four are from the diocese of Jaffna, and two belong to the Oblate Missionaries of Mary Immaculate (OMI). These priests unselfishly helped Tamil people during the war, until the last hours of the military campaign. These priests have only helped people. The Government of Sri Lanka has put them in isolation in the IDP camps where no-one is allowed contact with them. There are fears for their safety, their emotional and psychological conditions, and also for their physical health."

The worker said that around 300,000 people  are currently living in camps, in tents and temporary accommodation. The tents are for five people, but house between 15 and 16 people. There is a chronic shortage of water and lack of health services for everyone: for about 1, 500 people there are only two bathrooms. The request of humanitarian agencies to build at least 2, 500 toilets is of absolute urgency. All refugees are living in detention and internment centres which lack adequate food supplies, medicine and shelter, with no access to information or possibilities of outside communication.

He said: "There is a fundamental need for treatment and psychological support to help people who have been traumatized by war. NGOs are not allowed to work among the people: they can visit the camps, bringing aid but they must hand it over to the military
who are the only ones allowed to distribute it. They control the camps and take keep everyone under constant surveillance. The priests who are allowed to celebrate Mass are always accompanied by the army."

"The world is silent before this tragedy. No journalist, no agency, no human rights activist, and even relatives of the IDPs are allowed to visit the camps. People who live there are deprived of their freedom and want to know when the government will allow them to return home. The authorities say that the areas from which the refugees come are dotted with mines and it takes time to render them safe, so they must remain in IDP camps."

"The government keeps the refugees segregated for fear of LTTE militants infiltrating the camps. Plainclothes agents of the intelligence services roam the camp, checking on every possible sign that may reveal the presence of cells or supporters of the Tamil Tigers; some people have disappeared."

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