Muslims displaced by Sri Lanka violence have no homes to return

Scores of Muslims chased out of their homes by Sinhalese mob violence in central Sri Lanka have been forced to seek shelter in a makeshift refugee camp despite government claims of bringing the situation under control.

JDS has been able to speak to some among 178 Muslims camping in the Endarutenna school in Kandy district, who lament the inaction by security forces, which led to desecrating places of worship and the destruction of their homes.

Ten of the displaced are pregnant mothers. Many children are among them.

They had fled the Pahala Endarutenna Muslim village following a series of attacks culminating in the burning and sacking of 56 households, despite repeated appeals to the police and military.

President Maithripala Sirisena had declared a state of emergency throughout the island on 6 March, while the Kandy district remained under curfew.

Top government and security officials announced that thousands of additional troops have been deployed to the area.

The attacks on Pahala Endarutenna, 10 kilometres from the tourist city of Kandy, started on 5 March with a petrol bomb thrown at the Majeed Ahmed mosque in the afternoon.

Residents have immediately informed the police.

“Not to worry”

On the next evening a group who came in motor bicycles have thrown bottles of beer at devotees who gathered for prayers. Two police officers on mobile patrol arrived at the scene only to tell the villagers “not to worry”.

Residents who rushed to the mosque on 7 Wednesday after hearing a blast in the early hours of the morning have found their place of worship engulfed in flames. Five police officers who visited the mosque premises after being alerted, had left nearly two hours later claiming that they have no permission to stay longer.

Pahala Endarutenna came under heavy attack after police vacated the village around 3.30 am, said an Internally Displaced Person (IDP) who witnessed the horror.

“Around 11 in the morning one of our villagers came running to warn us of a mob coming to attack,” Badurdeen Mohamed Arshard told JDS over the phone.

“Many came riding motor bikes, covering their faces with bandanas and T shirts. They threw petrol bombs all over the place. We told the women, children and the elderly to run and hide in the woods.”

The mob had left only to return with a larger group to renew the violence on the Muslims and raid their valuables.

“Please don’t kill”

“Pregnant mothers were unable to run. Elderly and children were also among us. Some pleaded crying ‘please don’t kill us’. We made desperate phone calls to the military and the police.”

Troops had taken over four hours to arrive at the scene.

“That was too late. Our homes were destroyed and burnt down. Wardrobes and cupboards were smashed to steal jewelry, cash and other valuables,” said Mohamed Arshad.

Military ‘assurances’

Sri Lanka army chief who visited the camp in Enderutenna school had requested villagers to return. He had assured to provide security while saying that he is unable to guarantee the arrest of criminals.

Expressing their disappointment to Army Commander Mahesh Senanayaka, the displaced Muslims pointed out that the military in the possession of all available CCTV recordings from the scene should be able to identify perpetrators.

A displaced Muslim was skeptical of the assurance given by the top man in the military.

“What is the point of giving security now? When thugs came to destroy our homes, we begged for the army and police to help us. No one came at that time. Where do we have homes to go now?”

Most of the recorded violence against Muslims in Kandy had been unleashed when emergency regulations were in place. Almost all the attacks in the night had been launched when the curfew was in operation and armed troops deployed.

  Government officials were seen going around Kandy district in the weekend to assess the damage. Army commander Mahesh Senanayaka had promised to utilize troops to rebuild damaged properties by May, with funds from the government.



Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka

  • JDS is the Sri Lankan partner organization of international media rights group, Reporters Without Borders (RSF). The launching of this website was made possible by the EU’s European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR), of which Reporters Without Borders is a beneficiary.