By Bejay Browne
JUST one day after Interior Minister Socratis Hasikos ordered the release of three mothers detained at Menoyia on March 20, yet another nursing mother was arrested in Paphos and has been behind bars since.
The Sri Lankan woman’s husband has been forced to bring their 18-month-old daughter to the police station several times a day to be breast-fed.
According to Nicosia police, Theajaka Nilanthi Ranathunga, 38, was arrested on March 21 for residing in Cyprus illegally.
Ranathunga’s distraught husband, Saman Kumara Vijerathna, 31, spoke to the Cyprus Mail through an interpreter yesterday.
“Our baby still needs milk and she is missing her mother terribly. I am taking her to the police station every day to feed, but this is difficult as I have to work. Neighbours and friends are trying to help us, but this is very difficult and the baby is suffering,” he said.
A spokesman at Nicosia police headquarters confirmed that the baby’s father was working legally in Cyprus, and that a date for the mother’s court appearance has been set for April 10 in Nicosia.
“The mother is being held in Paphos and not at the Menoyia detention centre as she needs to be close to her baby who lives as the couple’s home with the father as she is still breastfeeding,” the spokesman said.
“We have to arrest someone who is found to be in Cyprus illegally. It’s the law and we cannot take any other action without the permission of the migration department. It’s up to Anny Shakalli, the migration department head, she is informed about each case and then it’s up to them. They can give permission to release this mother if they see fit, but now it’s up to the court to decide, it seems though, that she will be returned to her own country.”
The woman’s arrest comes in the wake of a recent damming report by Amnesty International, which said there was no excuse for separating a woman who has committed no crime, from her children.
According to Vijerathna, the couple married in Sri Lanka in 2001 and have lived in Cyprus for the last 12 years. For nine of those, Ranathunga was here legally. They have no other children.
“Our baby is not doing well without her mother and I’m worried about the future. We want to be able to fix our situation here, this is our home, and it’s very hard to separate a family. If my wife has to go home, the baby will stay here with me,” said Vijerathna.
As friends and leaders of the local Parish Church in Paphos, where the couple regularly worship, rally round to try and drum up support for the woman’s release, AKEL MP Skevi Koukouma, who chairs the House Refugees Committee, said she was saddened by the revelations of the mother’s plight, and released a statement criticising the actions of the government.
“Apparently the recent protests over the unacceptable effects on the alienation of children from their mothers who were detained at the facility in Menoyia have not really touched the interior ministry and the relevant government departments,” said Koukouma.
“Once again, Cypriot society is required to answer whether motherhood is no longer sacred when it concerns people of another nationality and origin. Once again the current government is demonstrating a lack of basic sensitivity to at least to comply with its international obligations.”