Ferry returns of Sri Lankan refugees from India due to start Wednesday

Briefing Notes, 11 October 2011

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Adrian Edwards to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 11 October 2011, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

UNHCR is expecting the first returns of Sri Lankan refugees by commercial ferry from India to start on Wednesday, 12th October. The returns are part of a voluntary, facilitated repatriation programme, supported by the governments of both India and Sri Lanka. A welcoming ceremony at Colombo port is planned with Sri Lankan government officials, port and shipping authorities and UNHCR.

Until now, all refugee returns to Sri Lanka have been by air. The numbers returning in this first 'trial run' are small 37 individuals representing 15 families. However, the return by sea is significant as UNHCR is hearing from Sri Lankan refugees in India that many are waiting for ferry returns in order to transport their household possessions with them. Each person can bring up to 150 kilogrammes of belongings.

The commercial ferry link between the port of Tuticorin in Tamil Nadu, India and Colombo in Sri Lanka reopened earlier this year paving the way for refugees to return by sea instead of air.

Since the conflict ended in May 2009, Sri Lankan refugees have been steadily returning back to their home country, mainly from India with a few from other countries. Over 1,400 refugees have returned so far this year, compared to 2,054 refugees in 2010.

UNHCR's facilitated voluntary repatriation programme assists refugees who tell us they want to return home. The main reasons they give for return is that the conflict has ended, and that they wish to reunite with family and friends and claim their land. Refugees tell us the major problems they face on return to Sri Lanka have been earning a living, and finding shelter.

UNHCR assists refugees once they return with a reintegration grant and transport allowance to help them get back home.

According to Indian government figures, some 69,000 Sri Lankan refugees are living in 112 camps in the southern state of Tamil Nadu.

UNHCR's most recent statistics show there are 141,063 Sri Lankan refugees in 65 countries, with the majority in India, followed by France, Canada, Germany, the United Kingdom, Switzerland, Australia, Malaysia, the United States and Italy.

For further information on this topic, please contact:

  • In Sri Lanka, Sulakshani Perera on mobile: +94 777 272 494
  • In Geneva: Babar Baloch on mobile +41 79 557 9106
• DONATE NOW •

 

• GET INVOLVED • • STAY INFORMED •

UNHCR country pages

Repatriation

UNHCR works with the country of origin and host countries to help refugees return home.

Return to Swat Valley

Thousands of displaced Pakistanis board buses and trucks to return home, but many remain in camps for fear of being displaced again.

Thousands of families displaced by violence in north-west Pakistan's Swat Valley and surrounding areas are returning home under a government-sponsored repatriation programme. Most cited positive reports about the security situation in their home areas as well as the unbearable heat in the camps as key factors behind their decision to return. At the same time, many people are not yet ready to go back home. They worry about their safety and the lack of access to basic services and food back in Swat. Others, whose homes were destroyed during the conflict, are worried about finding accommodation. UNHCR continues to monitor people's willingness to return home while advocating for returns to take place in safety and dignity. The UN refugee agency will provide support for the transport of vulnerable people wishing to return, and continue to distribute relief items to the displaced while assessing the emergency shelter needs of returnees. More than 2 million people have been displaced since early May in north-west Pakistan. Some 260,000 found shelter in camps, but the vast majority have been staying with host families or in rented homes or school buildings.

Return to Swat Valley

Tanzanian refugees return to Zanzibar

The UN refugee agency has successfully completed the voluntary repatriation of 38 Tanzanian refugees from Zanzibar who had been residing in the Somalia capital, Mogadishu, for more than a decade. The group, comprising 12 families, was flown on two special UNHCR-chartered flights from Mogadishu to Zanzibar on July 6, 2012. From there, seven families were accompanied back to their home villages on Pemba Island, while five families opted to remain and restart their lives on the main Zanzibar island of Unguja. The heads of households were young men when they left Zanzibar in January 2001, fleeing riots and violence following the October 2000 elections there. They were among 2,000 refugees who fled from the Tanzanian island of Pemba. The remainder of the Tanzanian refugee community in Mogadishu, about 70 people, will wait and see how the situation unfolds for those who went back before making a final decision on their return.

Tanzanian refugees return to Zanzibar

Tsunami Aftermath in Sri Lanka

Shortly after the tsunami hit Sri Lanka, killing over 30,000 people and displacing nearly 800,000, UNHCR was asked to take a lead role in providing transitional shelter – bridging the gap between emergency tents and the construction of permanent homes. The refugee agency is not normally involved in natural disasters, but lent its support to the effort because of the scale of the devastation and because many of the tsunami-affected people were also displaced by the conflict.

Since the 26 December 2004 tsunami, UNHCR has helped in the coordination and construction of over 55,000 transitional shelters and has directly constructed, through its partners, 4,500 shelters in Jaffna in the north, and Ampara District in the east. These efforts are helping some 20,000 people rebuild their lives.

On 15 November, 2005, UNHCR completed its post-tsunami shelter role and formally handed over responsibility for the shelter sector to the Sri Lankan government. Now, UNHCR is returning its full focus to its pre-tsunami work of providing assistance to people internally displaced by the conflict, and refugees repatriating from India.

Tsunami Aftermath in Sri Lanka

South Sudan: No Home To Return ToPlay video

South Sudan: No Home To Return To

Philip and his family fled from their home in the South Sudan town of Bor last December and found shelter in the capital, Juba. Recently they decided to return home, despite the risks. It took three arduous days to get back, but then they got there they found that their home had been destroyed.
Mali: Waiting to ReturnPlay video

Mali: Waiting to Return

After spending months in the central Mali town of Mopti, hundreds of displaced families are anxious to go back to their homes in the north. But security is still a concern.
Mali: Giving Help Play video

Mali: Giving Help

While thousands wait to be able to return to northern Mali , aid agencies continue helping the displaced.