Sri Lanka won’t allow in Rohingya refugees, says Prime Minister Wickremesinghe

Sri Lanka has made it clear that it will not accept any Rohingyas as refugees.

PK Balachandran, Sri Lanka
Published : 23 Sept 2017, 12:37 PM
Updated : 23 Sept 2017, 12:52 PM

Prime Minister Ranil Wickrmesinghe said on Friday that refugees coming to a country like Sri Lanka, far away from their native Myanmar, evoke suspicions of an 'organised immigration racket'.

“A citizen of another country can enter Sri Lanka by following the immigration procedures,” he said replying to a query at the government parliamentary group's meeting.

“Rohingya refugees of Myanmar can easily seek refuge in neighboring Bangladesh or Thailand.”

But their arrivals in Sri Lanka indicate that it is an organised effort. The government will not permit such maneuverings, he said.

There are a few Rohingyas in Sri Lanka who had come by boat and by air following communal disturbances in Myanmar in 2012, but there has been no recent influx.

But what the prime minister did not admit was the fact that there is an undercurrent of anti-Muslim sentiment among the majority Sinhalese Buddhist community in Sri Lanka which will not permit settlement of Rohingya Muslims in Sri Lanka.

The communal divide was reflected in the demonstrations held on the Rohingya issue in Sri Lanka.

While the Muslims wanted the government to rush to the aid of Rohingyas and accept refugees, the majority Buddhists would not allow anything of that kind.

Muslims in Sri Lanka demonstrate against violence towards Rohingya Muslim minority in Myanmar.

While the Muslims looked at the crisis as a huge humanitarian one, the Buddhists saw no merit in the Rohingyas’ case, as in their view, the Rohingyas could be a breeding ground for jihadi terrorists.

Udaya Gammanpila MP and leader of the Pivithuru Hela Urumaya, a Buddhist party, said that it would be dangerous to allow Rohingyas to settle in Sri Lanka because they would come with hatred in their hearts for the Buddhists.

 “They would create communal tension here and disturb social harmony,” Gammanpila warned.

Gammanpila maintained that much of the news about atrocities against the Rohingyas is “fabricated” by the US and other international players wanting to destabilise developing countries; get an excuse to intervene; and re-impose their hegemony.

 “As a country which had waged a 30-year war against Tamil terrorists, Sri Lanka has the bitter experience of facing manipulations by the Western Powers. Fabricated news in the international media about atrocities against the Tamils led to international intervention and stopped our attempts to nip Tamil terrorism in the bud,” Gammanpila recalled.

Rohingya refugees scuffle as aid is distributed in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, Sept 23, 2017. Reuters

Dilantha Vithanage, CEO of the radical Buddhist Bodu Bala Sena (BBS), endorsed the stand of China and India that the Rohingya issue is basically a terrorist one and that the Myanmar government government’s tough actions are justifiable.

“We should not forget that the Rohingya issue has its genesis in a Muslim separatist movement in the 1940s. We also feel that the Western media is spreading exaggerated accounts as sensationalism sells,” Vithanage said.

As a fellow Buddhist country, Sri Lanka should help Myanmar settle the Rohingya issue and provide the refugees humanitarian assistance, he added.

Muslim View

Giving the Muslim view, Hyder Ali, a functionary of the All Ceylon Jamiyathul Ulama (ACJU), called upon all Sri Lankans, irrespective of their faith, to see the Rohingya issue as a humanitarian one and not as a “Muslim” issue.

“Buddhists should view it from the stand point of the Buddha, and ask if Buddha would have allowed the atrocities? Did’nt the Buddhist leader, Dalai Lama, say that if the Buddha were alive now, he would have supported the Rohingyas?” Ali said.

A Rohingya refugees child carries aid in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, September 22, 2017. Reuters

Hilmy Ahamed of the Muslim Council of Sri Lanka (MCSL) said that the crisis  in Rakhine State where the Rohingyas live, cannot be seen only as a Muslim-Buddhist problem but as a plan by the governments of Myanmar, China and the US, to drive out people there and populate the area by a people who they can manipulate to meet their ends.

“The Rakhine coastline has great strategic value. And the area is rich in minerals. China and the US would like this place to be secure one for them so that they can pursue their economic and strategic objectives safely,” Ahamed said.

“As for the Myanmar government, it would like Rakhine State to be populated fully   by the majority Burmese Buddhist community. What is going on is systematic ethnic cleansing,” he said.