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[personal profile] unallersimple
Recently I had been talking about travelling in India and Sri Lanka and the differences between the two with a group of people I'd met. Someone mentioned there are a lot less beggars here in Sri Lanka, and one women pointed out that was because the government made them disappear. I felt absolutely mortified. There I was, sat in the restaurant of an exuberant hotel, mango juice in hand, with a gorgeous view of the beach and the sea. The contrast between worlds couldn't have been more pronounced.

I wasn't sure whether disappear meant forcibly remove or murder, but for once I'm in a city with an Internet cafe and I'm taking a day off from sightseeing (lucky privileged me) so I have time to do some research on the subject.

Below is what I've found out from Google in an hour or two, so the disclaimer is it's as accurate as a quick research from Google can be.

So if you are homeless, living in absolute poverty and begging on the streets of Colombo, what might happen to you?

Well I couldn't find any mentions of the government, police or armed forces murdering street beggars. However back in 2010 there were a spate of murders of beggars in the capital which some have linked to statements made by politicians. The first is reported in The Sunday Times who wrote that "The Asian Human Rights Commission expressed concern that the government may have triggered the recent spate of beggar murders by suggesting that LTTE operatives had infiltrated the city under the guise of beggars."

Politicians also appear to have made statements about the need to beautify the city ahead of The International Indian Film Academy Weekend and Awards ceremony in 2010. However The Sunday Times reported that beggars were actually forcibly removed on this occasion.

The website for The Asian Human Rights Commission adds that

"When the Prime Minister of the country himself creates the psychological impetus for intelligence agencies to act against the poorest sections of society, the beggars, is there any point in calling for inquiries and crying out for justice? When the government itself creates the climate for killing, where is the possibility for inquiries and justice?"

It's a sad and troubling situation.

I tired to find out whether the killer of the 2010 murders was ever captured, but other than one small article which mentioned that a suspect had been arrested I couldn't find anything that said someone had been caught and put on trial.

So what happens when beggars are arrested and forcibly removed? It seems that they get taken to "rehabilitation centres" in places such as Hambantota or Ridigama.

The BBC, www.vivalanka.com and The Sunday Leader mention beggars being moved to centres, and the most recent year I could find a news article for this happening was 2013, where a similar thing to the events of 2010 happened before the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM).

However I couldn't find anything to suggest this practice has been stopped or that the centres have been closed down.

LankaNewspapers.com paints a bleak picture of what life is like in the places that beggars are taken to, which are effectively detention centers. I don't like the way this article is written or the way is describes beggars and the homeless. I don't think it's accurate (do 98% of them really prefer to sleep on the floor without a mat?!) however this was pretty much the only thing I could find on life inside the centers.
http://www.nation.lk/ also reports some of the misery and horrific conditions that no one should have to suffer.

Sadly governments forcibly removing people before a global event is far from rare. I don't understand how people can put appearances before human rights. (E.g. The Philippines earlier this year.)

Taking people off the streets happens around the world, in countries such as Rwanda, Cambodia , and Nigeria to name a few. I never understand the logic of this. Violating human rights aside, it isn't even a plan that is going to fulfill their aims of 'cleaned up' streets. When people leave detention they will only return to where they came from and do the same things necessary in order to survive homelessness and absolute poverty. In the meantime while they are away more people will fill their place because the issues causing these problems in the first place aren't being addressed. It's like wiping away blood without using any stitches to stop the bleeding. But I guess the governments don't really care...otherwise they wouldn't be doing these things in the first place. It makes me so angry.


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