COLOMBO: Radical Buddhist monks stormed a United Nations safe house for Rohingya refugees near Sri Lanka’s capital Tuesday and forced authorities to relocate the group, officials said.
Saffron-robed Buddhist monks led a mob that broke down gates and entered the walled multi-storied compound as frightened refugees huddled together in upstairs rooms, a police official said.
“We have pushed back the mob and the refugees will be relocated in a safer place,” the official told AFP, asking not to be named as he was not authorised to speak to the media.
The 31 Rohingya refugees were rescued by the Sri Lankan navy in May after they were found drifting in a boat off the island’s northern waters.
The Rohingya were eventually to be resettled in a third country, the official said, adding that they were authorised to remain in Sri Lanka pending the processing of their papers.
A monk who stormed into the building was filmed by his radical Sinhale Jathika Balamuluwa (Sinhalese National Force) as he urged others to join him and smash the premises.
“These are Rohingya terrorists who killed Buddhist monks in Myanmar,” the monk said in his live commentary on Facebook, pointing to Rohingya mothers with small children in their arms.
Sri Lanka’s extremist Buddhist monks have close links with their ultra-nationalist counterparts in Myanmar. Both have been accused of orchestrating violence against minority Muslims in the two countries.
The police official said the refugees were taken into “protective custody” and had been brought back to their safe house when the mob returned and started throwing stones.
Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims have fled Myanmar in the face of the current wave of violence in that country.
The Rohingya Muslims have been the target of decades of state-backed persecution and discrimination in mainly Buddhist Myanmar.
Many view them as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, despite their long-established roots in the country.