The number of Sri Lankan refugees wanting to return home since the end of the conflict in 2009 is clearly on the increase, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) said.
"In response, we have streamlined our procedures and introduced some new measures to make the return process quicker and easier,” said Michael Zwack, UNHCR’s representative in Sri Lanka said.
According to UNHCR data, in 2010, the number of refugees UNHCR assisted to return home to Sri Lanka jumped to 2,054 compared to 843 in 2009. Most of the returnees came from refugee camps in Tamil Nadu in India, with several from other countries such as Malaysia. In addition to these assisted returns, another 2,742 Sri Lankan refugees, who returned to the country on their own accord, approached UNHCR’s offices in the North for assistance, UNHCR said in a release.
UNHCR expects more refugees to voluntarily return in 2011. Many of them will come home with the agency’s help.
Under UNHCR’s voluntary repatriation assistance, refugees are provided an air ticket home to Sri Lanka from India or other country of asylum and they are assisted with documentation issues. Starting from January 01, 2011, refugees returning under UNHCR’s programme will also receive a standard reintegration grant to help them restart their lives.
UNHCR meets returning refugees at the airport in Colombo and provides them with a modest transport grant to help them get back to their homes. Once home, they can approach UNHCR offices in the north to get a kit of basic household supplies. This assistance is only for refugees returning through UNHCR’s facilitated programme.
According to the latest Indian government figures, as of November 1, 2010, there are 70,354 Sri Lankan refugees living in some 112 camps in Tamil Nadu and 32,467 living outside the camps. In total there are 146,098 Sri Lankan registered refugees in 64 countries including India, France, Canada, Germany, UK, Switzerland, Malaysia, Australia, the United States and Italy.
In July last year, the UNHCR said, given the cessation of hostilities, Sri Lankans originating from the north of the country are no longer in need of international protection under broader refugee criteria or complementary forms of protection solely on the basis of risk of indiscriminate harm.
The UN Refugee Agency releasing its report on July 5, 2010, titled 'Eligibility Guidelines for Assessing the International Protection Needs of Asylum-Seekers from Sri Lanka', further said that human rights and security situation in Sri Lanka has improved.
'In light of the improved human rights and security situation in Sri Lanka, there is no longer a need for group-based protection mechanisms or for a presumption of eligibility for Sri Lankans of Tamil ethnicity originating from the north of the country', UNHCR report stated.