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, in particular in Tamil Nadu, India, continues to facilitate the voluntary repatriation of Sri Lankan refugees.
Essential to this on-going voluntary repatriation initiative is to obtain and analyse credible factual 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 appropriate, to improve the protection environment. The report produced on the basis of data collected from returnees every month is known as “Tool One”, and the report produced on the basis of data collected from returnees every year is known as “Tool Two”. 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 two UNHCR offices in the field to receive NFI cash grant. Returnees also receive counselling on reintegration support, including procedures to obtain essential civil documentation, such as birth certificates and National Identity Cards. Referrals are made to government authorities to obtain further assistance. Furthermore, returnees are directly linked to Mine Risk Education programmes in their areas of return.
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 purposes and referral to specialized agencies that can support their reintegration process.
In addition to collecting monitoring information from individuals who approach UNHCR or during frequent visits conducted by UNHCR and partners to returnee areas, UNHCR Sri Lanka now utilizes the two “tools” to ensure a systematized approach to returnee protection assessment and monitoring since 2011. These monitoring “tools” cover all refugee returnees known to UNHCR, whether their return is facilitated or spontaneous.
Full report – Sri Lankan Refugee Returnees in 2015
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