Since the end of the armed conflict in Sri Lanka in May 2009, increasing numbers of Sri Lankan refugees and asylum-seekers outside the country have been considering the possibility of voluntary repatriation.
Responsive to this demand, UNHCR Sri Lanka in cooperation with UNHCR offices in countries of asylum, continues to facilitate the voluntary repatriation of these Sri Lankans.
Essential to this on-going voluntary repatriation initiative is a credible data regarding the return and reintegration experience of those who have already returned. Solid protection monitoring data of these returnees allows UNHCR to intervene, as relevant, to improve the protection environment. This data and its analysis also assists UNHCR staff in countries of asylum to better counsel Sri Lankan refugees and asylum-seekers who are considering return as to the challenges and potential risks linked to repatriation. Such counselling, when backed by a solid analysis of the situation on the ground, helps to ensure that any decision to repatriate is an informed one.
For facilitated repatriation, UNHCR staff in the country of asylum counsel prospective returnees, and verify the voluntary nature of their decision. UNHCR then provides air transport for refugees who wish to return. UNHCR Sri Lanka staff meets each facilitated returnee upon arrival at the airport and ensures his / her safe arrival. Under a UNHCR-funded programme with the Bank of Ceylon, a bank account is opened and a reintegration grant is deposited for each household in the joint name of the husband and wife, while a modest transportation allowance is provided to returnees (in cash) for onward transportation to their villages of origin. Upon arrival in the villages of origin, facilitated returnees visit one of the three UNHCR offices in the field to receive non-food item (NFI) assistance. Returnees also receive counselling on reintegration support, including procedures to obtain essential civil documentation, such as birth certificates and National Identity Cards. Furthermore, returnees are directly linked to Mine Risk Education programmes in their areas of return and receive dry rations for six months.
A significant number of Sri Lankan refugees return spontaneously. Although spontaneous returnees are not eligible for UNHCR cash grants or NFI assistance, UNHCR encourages this group to approach its offices in areas of return for protection monitoring and referral to specialized agencies that can support the reintegration process.
In addition to collecting monitoring information through individuals who approach UNHCR or from frequent visits conducted by UNHCR and partners to returnee areas, UNHCR Sri Lanka now utilizes two “tools” to ensure a systematized approach to returnee protection assessment and monitoring. These monitoring “tools” cover all refugee returnees known to UNHCR, whether return is facilitated or spontaneous.
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