ACN News: Tuesday, 19th August 2008 – SRI LANKA
Sri Lankan bishop: ‘Help war refugees’
By John Newton
A leading Sri Lankan Bishop has demanded increased government help for those displaced by the fighting in the north of the country.
Speaking to Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need, Bishop Thomas Savundaranayagam of Jaffna, in north Sri Lanka, described how nearly 200,000 civilians fled their homes because of the conflict between the army and separatist rebel forces.
He said: “The battle with the Liberation Tigers has now reached a peak, and people are caught in the middle.
“As the troops advance, people are leaving their villages and running for their lives. They don’t know what to do.”
Bishop Savundaranayagam told ACN he was deeply concerned by the plight of those who have had to leave their homes because of the fighting.
The bishop said: “In this war the civilians are the ones who get hurt. May God preserve them in this on-going war.”
The refugees, who have been driven to the middle of Kilinochchy district by the fighting, face a bleak situation, living rough and taking shelter under the trees.
“There is no shelter, no water, no toilets, no food, and no medical assistance,” said Bishop Savundaranayagam.
Tents and other essential items were not being allowed in to the area, even though they were desperately needed to provide shelter for the homeless.
Bishop Thomas Savundaranayagam of Jaffna
While the government was providing help, military restrictions meant it was not always getting through, added the bishop.
He said: “The government is sending food, but only a limited number of lorries are allowed to pass through the army check point to enter the area.”
Bishop Savundaranayagam also hit out at the fact that medical aid was not being allowed through the check point to reach the homeless. “The government is not permitting necessary medicine,” he said.
While Catholic aid agency Caritas is doing what it can to help, Church and humanitarian organisations are severely hampered by restrictions.
Neil Buhne of the United Nations said up to 75,000 people had been displaced in the past two and a half months alone and warned that the figure was expected to increase.
Fighting between the military and separatist rebels has intensified since the government pulled out of a six-year truce in January 2008.
The Sri Lankan army captured Mannar District from the rebels and is now engaged in conflict in the Mulathivu and Kilinochchy districts.
The army guaranteed safe passage to Mannar from 12th – 17th August for the thousands who made the annual pilgrimage to the Marian shrine in Madu.
The government has poured in a record US$1.5 billion into the conflict this year, and has said that it will not stop the fighting until the rebels are wiped out.
Directly under the Holy See, Aid to the Church in Need supports the faithful wherever they are persecuted, oppressed or in pastoral need. ACN is a Catholic charity – helping to bring Christ to the world through prayer, information and action.
Founded in 1947 by Fr Werenfried van Straaten, whom Pope John Paul II named “An Outstanding Apostle of Charity”, the organisation is now at work in about 145 countries throughout the world.
The charity undertakes thousands of projects every year including providing transport for clergy and lay Church workers, construction of church buildings, funding for priests and nuns and help to train seminarians. Since the initiative’s launch in 1979, 45 million Aid to the Church in Need Child’s Bibles have been distributed worldwide.
For more information, please contact the Sydney office of ACN on (02) 9679-1929. e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org or write to Aid to the Church in Need PO Box 6245 Blacktown DC NSW 2148. Web: www.aidtochurch.org