2013 witnessed a considerable decline in the number of refugees returning to Sri Lanka, especially when compared to previous years. While 1,480 persons voluntarily repatriated to Sri Lanka in 2012 and 1,728 in 2011, only 718 did so in 2013.
It is difficult to determine the reason for the 51% drop in returns from 2012. “The decision whether or not to return rests with each individual family” stated UNHCR Representative Golam Abbas. “Repatriation should be voluntary and no one can be made to return against his or her will.”
The overwhelming majority of returnees come from camps in the south Indian state of Tamil Nadu, while seven persons also returned from Malaysia, Congo-Brazaville, and Morocco. According to UNHCR statistics, there were 124,436 Sri Lankan refugees globally as of 30 June 2013. UNHCR Sri Lanka coordinates with its office in India to facilitate return and to ensure that returnees have information on the repatriation process. Since the end of the conflict in May 2009, UNHCR has assisted more than 5,000 refugees in their repatriation efforts, mainly to the northern and eastern provinces of Sri Lanka.
Returning refugees are received by UNHCR upon arrival at the airport in Colombo and are provided with a standard return package consisting of a repatriation and transport grant. Returnees are encouraged to register with the UNHCR field office (Jaffna, Kilinochchi, or Vavuniya) closest to their place of origin where they receive a package of core household items.
UNHCR carries out regular monitoring in returnee areas and seeks to ensure that returnees receive Mine Risk Education and are included in the World Food Programme’s six-month food ration distribution. UNHCR also advocates on behalf of returnees for their inclusion in projects carried out by the government, the UN, or other agencies.
ENDFor further information on this topic, please contact:
Emily Hill, Executive Assistant, UNHCR, Colombo, Sri Lanka