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Praying with Refugees in Sri Lanka
01 May 2012

More than 6,000 people from 1,800 families in 'welcome centers' have yet to be released, and education of children has suffered three to five years of setback. (Jesuit Refugee Service)
(Vavuniya) May 1, 2012 — Sri Lanka concluded its war on May 18, 2009. It is estimated that more than 300,000 were forcibly displaced, having lost almost everything during the conflict, and between 40,000 –140,000 were killed in the final phase of the war alone.

The war created about 89,000 widows in northern and eastern Sri Lanka. Those who escaped death, about 300,000 people, were incarcerated in nearby 'welfare centers.' An unprecedented humanitarian crisis developed in the centers. Sustained pressure from the international community forced the government to initiate the process of release and resettlement of IDPs from September 2009 onwards. More than 6,000 people from 1,800 families in these centers have yet to be released.

Families have lost breadwinners; breadwinners have been incapacitated or are in detention. Loss of houses, properties and livelihoods has been massive. The majority of people struggle to keep home fires burning. Education of children has suffered three to five years of setback. Threats to their homelands, language and culture, and safety are numerous. Yet, the resilience of the people and their undying hope in God empower them during their 'exodus.'

Reflections for prayer
"I'm Theepan. I was born and baptized in 1983 in northern Sri Lanka, the year of the Tamil "holocaust." When I was one year old, our village was evacuated by the Sri Lankan armed forces at gunpoint; we took refuge in Mullaitivu. In 1990, when Mullaitivu was captured by the Sri Lankan forces, once again we were forced to relocate.

In March, 2007, when all hell broke loose in Vanni, displacements were so rapid. Amidst heavy weapons usage of the Sri Lankan forces and the cruelties of the LTTE [rebel forces], we were uncertain of our existence. Death was almost at the 'door' step. Sorry, makeshift tents did not have the luxury of doors.

On May 18, 2009, as we were escaping from the battle zone my father stepped on a landmine and began to bleed profusely. I ran back to help him and I stepped on another one. We ended up in a hospital and were treated. Today, both of us are amputees. Later, we were taken to the barb wired camps and suffered a lot. We were resettled later and we're gradually re-building our lives from scratch.

We're re-living under the tight control of the Sri Lankan forces. We're not free to express our pain; unable to mourn the death of our beloved ones; our lands are being colonized; young people like us, who had been in Vanni, are under surveillance.

It was our simple faith in God and our devotion to our Blessed Mother which sustained us during these travails. We believe that, in everything God works for good with those who love him/her. We continue to carry the cross with the fervent hope in the power of resurrection."
By Joel Kulanayagam SJ 
Jesuit Refugee Service Sri Lanka

Scripture for reading

Isaiah 58:5-8

Is this the manner of fasting I wish, of keeping a day of penance: That a man bow his head like a reed, and lie in sackcloth and ashes? Do you call this a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord?

This, rather, is the fasting that I wish: releasing those bound unjustly, untying the thongs of the yoke; sharing your bread with the hungry, sheltering the oppressed and the homeless; clothing the naked when you see them, and not turning your back on your own.

Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your wound shall quickly be healed; Your vindication shall go before you, and the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.