A group of extremist Buddhist monks have attacked a UN safe house for Rohingya Muslim refugees in the outskirts of Colombo.
The attack by the saffron-robed monks, who belong to a Sri Lankan nationalist organisation, reportedly forced the police to arrest the refugees as “illegal immigrants” on Tuesday.
The 31 refugees, including women and children, were sent away to a detention camp at Boosa in southern Sri Lanka, because the Migrant Detention Center at Mirihana near was reportedly full.
A police official said the refugees were taken into “protective custody” and had been brought back to their safe house when the mob returned and started pelting stones.
“We have pushed back the mob and the refugees will be relocated in a safer place,” the AFP quoted the unnamed police official as saying.
A monk, who stormed the walled mutli-storey compound, was filmed by his radical Sinhale Jathika Balamuluwa or Sinhalese National Force, according to AFP.
He was urging others to join him in smashing the premises.
“These are Rohingya terrorists who killed Buddhist monks in Myanmar,” he said in his live commentary on Facebook.
Sri Lanka’s extremist Buddhist monks are said to maintain close ties with their ultra-nationalist counterparts in Myanmar. Both stand accused of subjecting minority Muslims to persecution in their countries.
The office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees or UNHCR, whose cooperation was sought after the attack, was assured that the sojourn of the refugees in Boosa, primarily meant for terror suspects, would only be temporary.
The government and the UNHCR are working together to ensure the refugees’ “safety” and that the detention centre was in “good condition”, according to sources.
The UNHCR has called for a meeting with stakeholders in the government. The meeting could take place either on Wednesday or Thursday. The diplomatic community in Colombo will also be briefed about the action taken.
Rescued by the navy
In May this year, 32 Rohingya refugees were detained after being rescued by the Sri Lankan Navy off Kankesanthurai in the northern district of Jaffna. They were being transported by two Indian nationals.
These refugees were living in Mount Lavinia, a suburb 10 km south of Colombo, with the assistance of the UNHCR, when they came under attack.
This month, Muslim MPs and organisations urged the government to accept Rohingyas fleeing from a fresh bout of violence in Rakhine state in northwest Myanmar.
But Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe categorically stated that
government has no intention whatsoever of allowing them in as they are “illegal” immigrants.
He said that no foreigner can be allowed to enter Sri Lanka without a valid visa. And since the Rohingyas are moving in groups, there are obviously racketeers involved in the process.
The government cannot encourage that, Prime Minister Wickremesinghe said.
One of the first steps that the Sri Lankan government took when the present troubles in Myanmar started on Aug 25 was to deny visas to Myanmar citizens.
On Sept 18, a group of seven monks from Myanmar were refused visas at the Colombo airport. The Sri Lankan embassy in Yangon has been instructed to issue visas only to Myanmar’s officials.
Others would have to go through a thorough screening.
Tuesday’s attack by Buddhist monks did not take observers by surprise as there were demonstrations against the Rohingya Muslims in the recent past after it was assumed that the government might shelter them on humanitarian grounds, giving them refugee status.
Buddhist radical organisations have expressed opposition to allowing
the Rohingyas inside Sri Lanka, on the grounds that they are foreign Muslims and “radicalised” at that.
“Having had a conflict with the Buddhists in Myanmar, they will have hatred in their hearts for Buddhists in Sri Lanka. This will create a communal conflict here,” said Opposition MP Udaya Prabhath Gammanpila of the Pivithuru Hela Urumaya.