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Sri Lankan rights activists seek ceasefire in Gaza

Two Sri Lankan women went missing in the latest attacks in Israel, one was confirmed dead on Oct. 17
Human rights activists at the demonstration before the UN office in Colombo on Oct. 18

Human rights activists at the demonstration before the UN office in Colombo on Oct. 18. (Photo: Supplied)

Published: October 19, 2023 11:58 AM GMT
Updated: October 19, 2023 12:13 PM GMT

Sri Lankan rights activists have called for a ceasefire in Gaza after two women from the island nation reportedly fell victim to the Israel-Hamas war.

"There are many Sri Lankan citizens working in Israel as domestic workers and caregivers, including about 17 people in Gaza,” said Aruna Shantha Nonis who along with other rights activists held a demonstration before the UN office in the capital Colombo on Oct. 18.

“They sought employment in Israel and Gaza due to severe financial difficulties and limited job opportunities in the country," said Nonis, convener of Janodanaya, a social network.

The activists handed over three petitions to the UN office calling for protection of human rights in Gaza.

An immediate ceasefire is needed to ensure the safety of all civilians, particularly foreign employees in Israel and Palestine, Nonis observed.

"We urge all parties involved to adhere to the international law and implement the UN resolution proposing a two-state solution," said Nonis.

Dr. Tiwanka Mallawarachi, who took part in the demonstration, said the petitions urged the UN to send life-saving medicines to Gaza.

There are nearly 8,000 Sri Lankans currently in Israel. 

Two Sri Lankan women in Israel were reported missing following the latest escalation of violence on Oct. 7.

The Sri Lankan authorities on Oct. 17 confirmed that Anula Jayathilake was dead and her body would be taken to the Sri Lankan embassy in Israel within two days.

In Sri Lanka, Jayathilake’s daughter made a passionate plea to Nimal Bandara, Sri Lankan ambassador to Israel, to airlift her mother’s body and to stop the war in Gaza.

"I was 16 years old when my mother went to a foreign country. Dear Sir, for 10 years of my life, I was with my mother only for 90 days," she said in the letter to Bandara.

Father Chrisantha Sri Lal Fernando was sent by the Catholic Migrant Commission to serve the Sri Lankan Catholic community in Israel some 15 months ago.

Domestic workers have been sharing the difficulties and fears faced by them due to the war with the priest over the phone throughout the day.

"Every day, from 9 p.m. to 10 p.m., the Sri Lankan community in Jerusalem, Nazareth, Nathaniya, Haifa, and Tel Aviv come online to recite the Rosary for a ceasefire," said Father Fernando.

"Before the Rosary, I give a reflection on the importance of a ceasefire," Father Fernando, who went to Israel at the direction of the Catholic Migrant Commission in Sri Lanka, told UCA News.

On Oct. 18, they lit candles in every house before starting the Rosary, he added.

On Wednesdays, a prayer service and the Holy Mass are conducted online, he said.

"With the beginning of the war, a good number of faithful are participating in all religious activities and sharing with me their anxieties and fear daily," said Father Fernando.

Sisters Josephine Fernando and Nadeeka Fernando of the Perpetual Help Congregation are currently providing round-the-clock support to the Sri Lankans in Israel.

After 12 days of war in Gaza, the UN has estimated that 1,300 Israelis and more than 3,000 Palestinians have died.

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