Refugees in Sri Lanka rally against planned closure of United Nations office

  • A group of Rohingya refugees in Sri Lanka staged a protest outside the U.N. refugee agency’s office on Tuesday.
  • The refugees, who were rescued at sea by the navy while attempting to reach Indonesia, seek resettlement in another country.
  • The refugees submitted a petition to the U.N. agency expressing their concern about the impending office closure and appealing for assistance.

A group of Rohingya refugees living in Sri Lanka staged a protest outside the office of the U.N. refugee agency Tuesday, saying they fear losing their living allowance once the agency’s office in the island nation closes at the end of this year.

The protesters also want to be resettled in another country because Sri Lanka does not allow them to live there permanently.

About 100 Rohingya refugees live in Sri Lanka, most of them rescued at sea by the navy while they were trying to reach Indonesia after fleeing Myanmar for Bangladesh.

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About 740,000 Rohingya were resettled in Bangladesh after fleeing their homes in Myanmar to escape a brutal counterinsurgency campaign by security forces. But the camps in Bangladesh are squalid, with surging gang violence and rampant hunger, leading many to flee again.

Refugees rally

Rohingya refugees residing in Sri Lanka protest outside the UN’s refugee agency office in Colombo, Sri Lanka, on Jan. 2, 2024. The group says they fear losing their living allowance once the agency’s office in the island nation closes at the end of this year. (AP Photo/Eranga Jayawardena)

Ruki Fernando, a rights activist in Sri Lanka, said the refugees receive basic allowance from the U.N. agency and are provided with limited health care by the Sri Lankan government. However, the refugee children don’t receive education and adults aren’t allowed to work.

“We didn’t intend to come to Sri Lanka, but were rescued off the seas in Sri Lanka and brought to Sri Lanka by the navy. We also had to endure a hard time in detention in Sri Lanka and still live a very hard life in a new country where we can’t speak our language, and many don’t have family members, relatives and friends,” the refugees said in a petition to the U.N. agency’s representative.

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The petition said the refugees were upset to learn of the office’s upcoming closure and pleaded for it to “help us find a permanent solution in another country that will help us overcome uncertainty and not make us and our children permanently stateless.”

The U.N. refugee agency could not immediately be reached Tuesday.

The office in Sri Lanka was especially active during the country’s quarter-century civil war which ended in 2009.

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