Following the series of bomb blasts that struck luxury hotels and churches across Sri Lanka on Sunday, many Sri Lankan nationals across the UAE returned home from work to check on their loved ones.
For a few residents, it was a narrow escape as two Dubai-based families changed their travel plans in the last-minute. Officials from the Sri Lankan mission in Dubai said they are awaiting official briefing from the foreign ministry. However, support will be provided expatriates in need, said an official.
Shehara Rizly, a Sri Lankan expat working in Dubai in B2B travel magazine told Khaleej Times she was shocked to learn the passing away of popular Sri Lankan chef Shantha Mayadume and her daughter Nilanga Mayadume in Shangri-La. Nilanga is said to be a news anchor for a Sri Lankan channel, said Rizly.
"Shantha Mayadunne is a famous chef from Sri Lanka with a popular cookery programme on the television. She was a household name," said Rizly. "I have been trying to reach out to my friends in Shangri-La to check if they are fine. However, I cannot get through them," said Rizly.
Mother to a 20-year-old daughter, Rizly survived the civil war in Sri Lanka caused by an armed rebellion launched against the government by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.
"This does not seem to be something that is locally done. We have some issues of religious intolerance, but no Sri Lankan would bomb a church on Easter Sunday," she added.
"We have suffered 35 years of war, and this kind of thing is the last thing we expected on Easter Sunday, the day Jesus resurrected," added Rizly. "I was 9-years-old when the last war happened. I remember homes and people were set on fire in 83'. This feels like history repeating itself. I did not want my children to experience this too."
Rizly feels this is a gross misrepresentation of the Sri Lankan people. "This is not who we are. This is not what we stand for. Sri Lankans celebrate Easter Sunday with Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, people of all religions come together," she said.
Gayan Thushara Herath, a Sri Lankan expat hailing from Negombo, where an attack took place at the St. Sebastian's Church, said he was relieved to hear that his family is safe. He said: "Fortunately, my family is safe. However, since it is still ongoing and it is too early to say if all my friends are safe. I am waiting to hear back from many friends," said a distressed Herath.
Michelle Silva, a PR consultant from India, has visited Sri Lanka twice and was at the St Anthony's Shrine in Kochchikade, Colombo on Christmas Day last year. "I cannot get my eyes off what I am seeing on the television. It is really sad. People of Colombo are very attached and connected to the holy site."
It was a narrow escape for these two residents. Mallika Mahamevnawa, a Dubai- based resident, said she and her family were staying at the Shangri-La till April 15. "We were originally supposed to stay at the hotel till April 21 . Fortunately, we moved the travel dates around due to my son's exam schedule."
The family said they have stayed at the Shangri-La several times in the past, and this comes as a huge sock. "We thought we put this behind us. It is a an earth-shattering experience. I was headed to work this morning, but after I heard what happened, I turned around and went home."
Steevan Sadhanadankanapathy, a Dubai- resident who has been in the UAE for nine years, said: "Every year my family and I went to Anthony's Shrine in Kochchikade. My friends and I used to do ushering in the same church. This year, my family went to Nuwara Eliya instead.
However, I don't know if my friends are safe. I don't think they are, as I have not heard from them. It is a miracle if they have survived."
Fr Reinhold Sahner, priest at St Francis of Assisi, Jebel Ali, added:
"My thoughts and prayers are with the people of Sri Lanka, especially the victims and their families. We mentioned the attacks in our prayers today and in the homily, I gave at 11.30am mass. God is in our side and we courageously face hate and terror."
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