Sri Lanka: UNHCR Refugees

Lord Dholakia Excerpts
Thursday 9th May 2019

(3 years, 1 month ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon
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My Lords, the short answer to the noble Lord’s final point is, absolutely. My right honourable friend the Security Minister made that offer to the Sri Lankan Government. I visited the high commission myself to sign the condolence book and had an extensive meeting with the high commissioner. I will be seeking to visit the country for the purpose referred to by the noble Lord. It looks towards the United Kingdom and I am proud—as I am sure all noble Lords are—to be part of a country which, notwithstanding its challenges, has shown that it has the respect of all faiths and none, and in which faith communities are an integral part of finding solutions to those challenges.

The noble Lord is right to point out the situation of the Muslim communities that were expelled under severe security concerns. He is quite right that the majority of those are Ahmadi Muslims; I declare an interest in this respect. I am sure that the irony is not lost on many people: those who fled Pakistan because they were targeted for not being Muslim are now being targeted for being Muslim in another country. I assure the noble Lord that we have made all necessary offers of support to the Sri Lankan Government. There has been no specific request as yet.

On the issue of relocation, the UN and civil society organisations are working with the Government to identify immediate relocation options and as I said, there are 412 refugees currently in the UNHCR resettlement process. He asked specifically about the number for the UK. The UN says that seven are currently being processed for relocation to the United Kingdom.

Lord Dholakia Portrait Lord Dholakia (LD)
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My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating this Answer. The world looked in horror when we heard about the massacre of more than 250 people, worshippers and tourists, in Sri Lanka on that fateful Easter day. We have all condemned such attacks, and it is right that Sri Lanka takes every legal measure to identify and prosecute the perpetrators and take steps to prevent further attacks. I single out the timely meeting of the all-faiths group that was held in the Lord Speaker’s premises upstairs, at which a number of people paid tribute to what happened in Sri Lanka that day.

Two questions arise. First, I was delighted that the Minister mentioned the measures being taken to protect the Afghanis, Pakistanis and Ahmadiyya community in Sri Lanka, but who is actually monitoring that? Has the United Nations any particular role in ensuring the safety and security of this community? My second question concerns the Ahmadiyya community in this country and the very large Sri Lankan diaspora in the United Kingdom, as we have noted in the past. What is being done to assure the peace-loving Ahmadiyya community in this country about the protection of their friends and relations in Sri Lanka?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon
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My Lords, first, I join with the noble Lord and I am sure I speak for all noble Lords when I say that we were all appalled by the events that took place in Colombo, with worshippers and people who were enjoying a holiday being attacked. It shows again the importance of unity in standing up to those extremists and terrorists who seek to divide us. We have experienced it here in the United Kingdom, and it is tragic that this is a worldwide scourge which we need to unify against.

On the noble Lord’s specific questions, we continue to work very closely with the diaspora communities here in the UK as well as the Ahmadiyya Muslim community. The noble Lord will know that I am a member of that community; I have been working very closely with it and identifying its concerns. The situation for the refugees is very dire at the moment—indeed, they are taking refuge in a police station, a centre and an Ahmadiyya Muslim mosque in Colombo. I have raised these questions directly with the high commissioner and she has assured me of her co-operation.

I will share a poignant moment, if I may. The noble Lord talked about multifaith organisations. On Sunday, I attended such an occasion in a church near me in Putney: the high commissioner and the deputy lieutenant were present, and it was very poignant to hear readings from Christian communities and representatives of the Ahmadiyya Muslim community, who reflected on the need to stand up against those who seek to divide us, and prayers for those who have passed in these attacks.