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Thursday, November 08, 2012 - 05.41 GMT

UNHCR helps resolve land issues in north


Three-and-a-half years after the conflict ended, fresh challenges have emerged as people continue to return home. The UN refugee agency is working with local authorities and partners to support sustainable returns by addressing some of these problems, including housing, land and property.

The 26-year-long conflict, which ended in May 2009, left basic services in tatters, destroyed homes and infrastructure, and caused hundreds of thousands of people to flee their homes in the north and east. As they fled, many families lost key documents, including property title deeds.

With local government services virtually non-existent at the time of return, they were unable to obtain copies of documents or could not afford to do so. That meant many people could not prove that they owned their land.

"Land documentation is critical for these families to restart their lives and reintegrate in their villages," said Michael Zwack, UNHCR's representative in Sri Lanka. "Without land deeds, returnee families cannot obtain the clearance to rebuild their homes or prove ownership in order to access housing assistance. Documents are also essential for families to claim compensation for private land that has been used for state purposes."

To help tackle this thorny problem, the UN refugee agency has provided computers, photocopiers, scanners and fax machines to 45 local government offices dealing with land documentation and records in the Mannar, Jaffna, Vavuniya, Mullaitivu and Kilinochchi districts. These will allow officials to process land claims and issue fresh documentation.

UNHCR, following discussion with the Registrar General's Department, will also arrange computer servers for 14 sub-offices in the north to help decentralize the process of issuing and storing documentation. The servers will also help link the offices and keep information on claims and titles.

UNHCR, through local partner organizations, is also helping in the demarcation process, so that returnees can cordon off their area and build protective fences. The agency funds transportation costs for government survey experts sent to demarcate property in remote rural areas.

More than 238,000 internally displaced people and 6,300 refugees have returned home in Sri Lanka since May 2009.





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Last modified: November 08, 2012.

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