Even though the Sri Lankan government declared victory in a decades-long civil war against the Tamil Tigers, Toronto Tamils continued to protest peacefully Tuesday outside the U.S. Consulate, saying citizens are still being denied humanitarian aid in the safety zone.
“Over 250,000 displaced citizens have no access to food or medicine,” said Roshan Alisterosario, who was born in Sri Lanka and immigrated to Canada in 1997. “So we’re here still protesting for those people.”
Aid agency director Suresh Bartlett, of World Vision in Sri Lanka, said: “The conventional war may be over but the real challenge now is to foster an environment where fractured and displaced Tamil communities can heal and have a real chance at creating a future for themselves and their children.”
Bartlett said: “There are now almost 250,000 people in the displacement camps, among them an estimated 80,000 children. These people have been displaced numerous times and in reality the camps are yet another displacement.
The relief, development and advocacy organization has been assisting those in camps with water, food, shelter, non-food relief items as well as nutrition, education and psychosocial programs for children.
According to World Vision, many tens of thousands of children have been severely emotionally, physically and mentally impacted, having endured months of extremely violent close quarter conflict, suffered a lack of health care, and poor access to shelter and food. Aid agencies and government ministries need to identify children who have suffered trauma and distress and provide special supports.
Government and UN officials say that conditions are slowly improving as more foreign aid arrives to supplement local relief efforts. However, the Christian Science Monitor reported that independent reporters are barred from the war zone area, ostensibly for security reasons. Authorities have also blocked media access to those injured in the war in other locations.
Despite a government ban on journalists working in the conflict zone, reported the Christian Science Monitor, some international broadcast outlets have been trying to cover the deteriorating situation in Sri Lanka: Al Jazeera English, BBC World Service radio, and BBC World News.
BBC World News reported that UN and aid agencies have appealed to Sri Lanka to allow them access to injured and displaced civilians stranded despite an end to fighting. “We need to have access, I repeat, total access, without the least let or hindrance, for the UN, for NGOs (non-governmental organizations) and for the Red Cross,” said Elisabeth Byrs, spokeswoman for the UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
The UN also called on authorities to improve the situation at camps where thousands had arrived to escape the intensive fighting in the past few months.
“That’s why we’re still here,” said Alisterosario, who said there’s been a lot of support from non-Tamils in Toronto. “So the international community, media and aid workers can go in and help the people who are affected.”
Alisterosario, 20, made it clear that the flags the protestors are carrying are not Tamil Tigers’ flags. “It’s a Tamil nation flag that’s been modified,” he said. “That’s why we like to hold it.”
He admitted, however, that some protestors do support the Tigers, saying, “They’re the only people who stood up to fight for the Tamil people, for their freedom, so they could have the same rights as a Sinhalese person does.”
The Sinhalese are the main ethnic group of Sri Lanka. In the early 21st century the Sinhalese were estimated to number about 13.8 million, or 73 percent of the population.
Even though the war is over, Alisterosario and other Tamil Canadians wonder what the future holds for Tamils in Sri Lanka. He said there are many Tamils who are afraid to leave their houses for fear of being assaulted or killed by the Sinhalese, as Sri Lanka celebrates their victory.
“There are people in Colombo going door to door telling Tamils to leave the area,” he said. “They’re forcing them to leave to go back.” For Alisterosario, Tamil Eelam is the only solution. “Instead of one state at war, we want two states at peace,” he said.
After sunset, Toronto Tamils line up along University Avenue for a 30 minute candlelight vigil to remember those who’ve died during the civil war.
“We do this every day,” said Alisterosario, “because even though the war is over civilians are dying every day.”
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