Sri Lankans in Halifax planning vigil for hundreds killed in explosions

Maan Alhmidi 

Published: Apr 22, 2019 at 8:06 p.m.

Sri Lankans living in Halifax are planning a vigil on Tuesday when they will light candles and send their thoughts to those who lost their lives back home.

Nearly 300 people were killed, and 500 others injured in eight co-ordinated attacks on churches and hotels in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday.

“It’s kind of disbelief,” Halifax resident Wimal Rankaduwa said of the attacks.

“To be very frank, even over 30 years of civil war, there wasn’t any time this many explosions happened at the same time.”

Rankaduwa came to Dalhousie University as a PhD student in 1987. Now, he’s an economics professor at the University of Prince Edward Island. He also teaches classes at Saint Mary’s University and Dal.

It was around midnight Saturday in Halifax when the attacks took place. Vishva Danthurebandara was hanging out with his Sri Lankan friends. But the breaking news about the attacks changed their plans. After they called their families and friends who live in the affected areas, they spread the news to their friends here in Canada.

Danthurebandara is a member of Sri Lankans Canada Association for Atlantic Region, a non-profit community organization that organizes cultural events from Sri Lankans in the Maritime provinces.

He spent Monday trying to organize Tuesday’s vigil to bring community members together. It will take place from 7-8:30 p.m. at Victoria Park.

“We have a Buddhist temple here. So, we are trying to communicate with them to organize some religious events to express the public’s condolences,” Danthurebandara said.

He and other association members are also trying to identify people in Sri Lanka who are affected by the attacks to provide help for them.

Sri Lankans living here had trouble getting in touch with family members and friends to make sure that they’re safe because the government blocked Facebook and WhatsApp following the deadly attacks.

Halifax resident Rohan Hordagoda is a Canadian citizen who fled Sri Lanka in 2008. “It’s really difficult to find out how the nearest and the dearest are doing,” he said. “My mother and my sister are OK, but I don’t know about the others.”

There are between 300 and 400 Sri Lankans living in Halifax, Danthurebandara said. Another 200 Sri Lankans live in P.E.I. and roughly the same number live in New Brunswick.

Many of them came to Canada as refugees during the civil war that lasted for almost three decades, ending in 2009.

“We have faced many things more than this. For the situation as well, we will get through it together.” Danthurebandara said.

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