The Office on Missing Persons (OMP), has urged the Sri Lanka government to ensure that families of the missing and disappeared are included as beneficiaries for rations and other state assistance schemes, to help with the difficulties of the coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis.
A letter addressed to Sri Lanka’s President, Prime Minister and Chairman of the Presidential Task Force was sent out by the OMP chairman, Saliya Pieris yesterday (7th April).
It outlined the threat posed by COVID-19 in Sri Lanka and acknowledged how the measures taken to manage the virus have “created difficulties, particularly for the more vulnerable sections of Sri Lankan society.”
The letter detailed the necessity to include the families of the missing and disappeared in relief measures due to them being an “extremely vulnerable” group.
OMP cited the Gazette No 2168/8 dated 6 March 2020, issued for the Presidential office Task Force to “take steps to focus special attention on women, low-income families and persons directly at risk when undertaking above measures”.
The emotional, social and economic consequences over the past 30 years endured by the families of the missing and disappeared is also highlighted, stating that there has been “limited or no state assistance,” according to OMP’s Interim Report of 2018.
The report also stated;
“In many cases, it was the primary bread winner – a husband or a son who was disappeared leaving behind wives, elderly parents and young children. These families in addition to having no income, are not able to access welfare benefits, wages and social assistance to which the disappeared person is entitled.”
OMP highlighted the recommendation of “interim relief measures for the most vulnerable among families of the missing and disappeared pending the award of a reparation package” was taken for consideration by the government in 2019.
The government subsequently proposed to “provide Rs. 6000 monthly relief to families of missing and disappeared persons, including members of the armed forces and police identified as missing in action on the condition of them possessing a Certificate of Absence.”
OMP emphasised “the prevailing situation in the country has had dire consequences on these families, as they are no longer able to earn their wages and they have limited or no assets” and recommended “that families of the missing and disappeared be included in any proposed relief measures, including the provision of food and financial assistance in response to the current crisis,” in the letter.
The letter concluded with recommendations from OMP that;
“ Short-term measures of dry rations be provided to families of the missing and disappeared through Grama Niladharis. Grama Niladharis have already collected information regarding missing and disappeared in their local area, and such lists could be used to avoid duplication in instances where such families are also beneficiaries under other state assistance schemes for vulnerable persons.”
Read the full letter here.