CAFOD has supported its local Caritas aid agency, Caritas Sri Lanka, as well as other church and civil society organisations, for more than 30 years. We focus on promoting peace and reconciliation at the grassroots level to help communities break down barriers, and give poor and marginalised people the skills to engage in active citizenship and hold their government to account.
How is CAFOD supporting refugees and asylum seekers in Sri Lanka?
Following the Easter 2019 bombings, there has been widespread hostility towards members of the Muslim community in Sri Lanka, and towards refugees and asylum seekers from Pakistan and Afghanistan living in the Negombo area. Due to facing retaliatory attacks, many of the refugees had to flee their homes and took shelter in mosques and the local police station. These people are predominantly Ahmadis (a Muslim minority group) and Christians who had gone to Sri Lanka to escape religious persecution in their home countries.
With the money you have raised so far, CAFOD has made an emergency grant to our Sri Lankan partners based in Negombo, who are working to support the welfare of these refugees. Your donations are helping to provide food and medicines as well as funding for psycho-social support to those who are vulnerable. Alongside this, they are carrying out advocacy and communications at a local level to help restore peace and normalcy in the aftermath of the attacks.
What has happened?
On Easter Sunday 2019, bomb blasts across Sri Lanka targeting churches and hotels killed more than 250 people.
CAFOD Director Christine Allen said, “CAFOD has worked through our church network Caritas in Sri Lanka for many years, helping to build peace as the country emerged from decades of war.
"We are devastated at the news of the attack and will be praying for those affected by this terrible tragedy.”
The following Sunday (28 April 2019), Christians across Sri Lanka prayed at home, and many watched the televised mass led by the Archbishop of Colombo, Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, and attended by the President of Sri Lanka, Maithripala Sirisena, and Prime Minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe.
"We pray that in this country there will be peace and co-existence and understanding each other without division," said Cardinal Ranjith.
What has been the response of other faith agencies?
CAFOD alongside Islamic Relief, Muslim Aid, Christian Aid and other faith agencies have said:
"We are shocked and saddened by the attacks on innocent civilians which occurred on Easter Sunday. Our profound condolences go out to the people of Sri Lanka and the friends and families of the victims, both national and foreign.
"It is appalling that acts of violence should be perpetrated on one of the most important days in the Christian calendar, targeting both Christians celebrating Easter and tourists visiting Sri Lanka. As people of faith and faith-based organisations, we must continue to stand together so that communities can practice their faith without fear. We will be working together to offer support to those most affected. We will not allow hatred to divide us, and we are determined to focus on our common agenda of alleviating the poverty and suffering that afflict all communities.
"As faith-based development and humanitarian organisations, it is our job to help save lives, help people live to their full potential and to work with people of all faiths and none. We unequivocally condemn terrorism and we abhor acts of violence against civilians. Our Christian and Islamic faiths are based on peace, love and harmony. We are praying for those affected by this terrible tragedy."
What is the church in Sri Lanka saying?
The Catholic Bishops' Conference of Sri Lanka urged citizens to remain calm and said it expects the government to conduct an immediate inquiry.
"Following the example of Jesus Christ who underwent undeserved suffering and offered himself to serve humankind, we must also be prepared to have a compassionate heart and prayerfully seek solutions in a human and just manner."
The Archbishop of Colombo, His Eminence Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith, added:
“We express our deepest condolences at this moment. At this point, I would like to state that after all funeral activities are complete, we must return to normalcy, and reconcile with each other.
“Just like the tip of the iceberg, we do not know the whole picture. We request the government and its leaders […] ensure such efforts to create division in the country will not be repeated in the future.”
How is CAFOD supporting the needs of families affected by these bombings?
The appalling nature of the Easter Sunday bombings means that many families will need support over the coming years to come to terms with the loss of their loved ones.
Caritas Sri Lanka has already established psychosocial centres to spearhead the trauma counselling that is now urgently needed in affected communities.
Our local aid experts on the ground have years of experience in counselling and they will work with the surviving families to provide practical assistance.
Other partners who work on the ground with all communities are using their contacts to spread the message of peace and harmony, and so calm anger and prevent retaliatory attacks on the Muslim communities – especially in Negombo where the worst loss of life occurred.