About 200,000 displaced people are still living in refugee camps in northern Sri Lanka, even though southerners believe everything is back to normal. The government organises trips to the war zone only to show monuments that celebrate the army’s victory. Almost three years since the end of 30 years of ethnic conflict, Sri Lanka has not yet resolved its so-called ‘Tamil problem’. About 200,000 Tamil internally displaced people live in refugee camps in the northern part of the country under military control, unable to go home to their villages. Ethnic Sinhalese appear oblivious of what went on (bombardment and war crimes) and is going on trips to the former war zone. Here is a story of courage and hope of a priest who visited the refugee camps in Cheddikulam. Most Sinhalese in southern Sri Lanka do not believe a ‘Tamil problem’ exists.
Almost three years after the end of the conflict, the authorities continue to tell them that displaced people have gone back to a normal life. However, this is not true. Many war victims have been unable to go back home to their region or villages. Instead, they have been forced into areas owned by the government and the armed forces. Few Sinhalese know the truth. After 2009, hundreds of people have travelled from the south to the north to see the lands conquered by the Sri Lankan army. However, war is a crime. Southerners have never heard the sound of explosions or bombardment or experienced the atrocities of war.
They have not seen mothers run away with their little children to save their lives, as their husbands and older sons were torn apart in front of their eyes. They have never lived shut away in a bunker, days on end, afraid that death might come at any moment, their thoughts only on how to find food and water for their children. When they visit the north, Sinhalese only see the monuments celebrating the army’s victory.
Recently, I travelled to Cheddikulam to celebrate Mass with Tamil brothers and sisters who still “live” in refugee camps. Fr Douglas Milton was supposed to come with me. He is a friend from the Diocese of Mannar. Because of heavy rains, he arrived late by 30 minutes. He surprised me when he started the service telling the faithful, “I apologise for the delay. There was a lot of rain during my journey.”
These appear to be simple words, but show instead the dignity, equality, respect and love he has for this lonely and oppressed people. By apologising, my friend brought them hope, courage and strength. He addressed them with the same love, kindness and compassion our Lord Jesus had for his people.