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Sri Lanka asked to support families of disappeared people

Some 20,000 people were reportedly disappeared in the aftermath of Sri Lanka’s civil war with Tamil Tiger rebels
Sri Lanka asked to support families of disappeared people

Sri Lanka's main opposition legislators wearing black masks and black scarfs hold torches during a protest outside President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s office in Colombo on December 7, 2020. The opposition accused the government of the suppression of dissidents using the pandemic as an excuse to curtail individual freedoms and free speech. (Lakruwan Wannirachchi / AFP) 

Published: December 09, 2020 10:01 AM GMT
Updated: December 09, 2020 10:25 AM GMT

Families of people officially recognized as having disappeared in Sri Lanka have appealed to the government to come good on a promise to pay a 6,000 rupee (US$32) monthly allowance over the next year.

They say the government has not allocated the necessary funds in the country's 2021-budget to pay the monthly allowance to families with the required documentation.

Some 20,000 people, mostly ethnic Tamil people, disappeared during Sri Lanka's civil war with Tamil Tiger rebels that ended in 2009. Many of them are thought to be victims of enforced disappearance.

To address the issue, the government has issued Certificates of Absence, which entitles the holder to the same rights enjoyed by the holder of a death certificate.

One of the benefits is the 6,000-rupee monthly allowance to the family.

Brito Fernando, a prominent human rights activist and president of the country's Families of the Disappeared (FoD) group, said many of the missing were the families' sole breadwinners.

"Most of these families are poor and over the years have spent what little they have in trying to search for their loved ones," Fernando said.

The government allocated 500 million rupees in assistance to these families from the 2019 budget, which was paid.

Fernando said this was an aid scheme to assist families of the disappeared until an inquiry was conducted and the whereabouts of their loved ones was determined officially.

The government has pledged to extend this payment. However, the 2021 budget being debated in parliament does not seem to be taking this into account.

This has meant that families of the disappeared are worried that their monthly allowance will not be available next year.

A Catholic priest who works with the families of the missing said that this "is a very reasonable" request.

"Some family members are being cared for by distant relatives or even their neighbors and are very poor," said the priest who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Shanthi Rajah, 78, whose husband was reported disappeared after the war, said the government's aid was greatly needed.

"Finding money for everyday things like food is a big challenge in our lives right now. We have lost everything in life," she said.

"We desperately need the government to come good on its promise and allocate this money," she added.

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