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2015 UNHCR subregional operations profile - South Asia

| Overview |

UNHCR 2015 South Asia subregional operations map

India, Nepal and Sri Lanka offer asylum to a considerable number of refugees, although they are not signatories of the 1951 Refugee Convention. UNHCR cooperates with the Governments of these countries, as well as with NGOs and other stakeholders, to protect, assist and find durable solutions for refugees and other people of concern.

The main populations of concern to UNHCR in the subregion include more than 200,000 refugees and asylum-seekers of various origins living in India (of whom some 30,000 are registered with UNHCR); nearly 40,000 refugees and asylum-seekers in Nepal (of whom some 25,000 refugees from Bhutan live in two camps); and nearly 2,400 refugees and asylum-seekers, 10,000 returnees, and 30,000 IDPs in Sri Lanka.

All three countries have seen a growing number of people seeking asylum, and this trend is likely to continue in 2015. In the absence of national asylum legislation, UNHCR conducts registration and refugee status determination (RSD), and facilitates the resettlement of vulnerable groups. However, the processing of resettlement submissions for refugees from Bhutan in Nepal is becoming labour-intensive, a situation that is expected to increase as more complex cases are considered. Similarly, the substantial increase in asylum applications in Sri Lanka in 2013-2014 has challenged UNHCR's capacity to conduct RSD and to process cases for resettlement.

Sustainable livelihoods, reliable community-support networks, and access to specialized services for people with special needs, are some of the main challenges faced by refugees in the three countries. In India, poverty is a key challenge for the majority of refugees and asylum-seekers, who may face discrimination from local communities with little understanding of refugee issues. The quality of public health and education in Nepal's camps has been adversely affected by the departure of skilled refugee workers, who were resettled. Meanwhile, in Sri Lanka, refugees, the internally displaced and refugee returnees struggle to meet their basic needs, and the lack of a comprehensive national policy on land rights has had an adverse impact on the sustainability of return. More recently, national security concerns have led to the shrinking of asylum space in Sri Lanka, with the detention of refugees and asylum-seekers, as well as instances of refoulement.

While the three Governments have adopted various approaches to deal with the different refugee populations in their countries, UNHCR fills the gaps in terms of protection, assistance and durable solutions. It focuses on the most vulnerable, including women, children, the elderly, survivors of sexual and gender-based violence, and those with special needs. It also advocates adopting national refugee frameworks and accession to international refugee instruments.

Through stronger partnerships with the various Governments, UNHCR aims to enhance asylum space, including by: identifying opportunities for local integration; improving livelihoods for urban refugees; ensuring the smooth voluntary return of refugees from India to Sri Lanka, and possibly Myanmar; identifying other durable solutions for refugees from Bhutan; supporting a sustainable return for those internally displaced in Sri Lanka, something that is expected to be facilitated by access to land in the north; and ensuring the expeditious resettlement of vulnerable refugees, for whom voluntary return to their countries or local integration is not possible.

In 2015,UNHCR will continue to advocate for a favourable protection environment in South Asia, including freedom from arbitrary detention and refoulement. It will support national capacity-building efforts of the three Governments by training border and other law enforcement authorities, judiciary, lawyers, media, and local NGOs. The Office will work closely with refugee communities to enhance their self-protection and self-assistance capabilities, until a durable solution can be achieved for groups and individuals of concern to UNHCR.

| Response and implementation |

In India, UNHCR will continue to build on the positive understanding it has with the Government regarding refugee issues. It will review opportunities to: incrementally provide direct refugee protection; share biometric data; run regular training sessions on RSD processes; and include particularly vulnerable refugees in government social welfare schemes. The Office will continue to expand its outreach to the Indian public and engage more prominently with new civil society actors, in order to increase refugee access to urban support mechanisms.

In Nepal, the Office will continue the resettlement of refugees from Bhutan and, in close cooperation with other concerned Governments, search for other durable solutions for families remaining in camps. It will continue to advocate a simpler visa-waiver process for urban refugees who are accepted for resettlement and ways to assure the safe transit of Tibetans to India. UNHCR will also seek the issuance of documentation for the long-staying Tibetan population.

In Sri Lanka, UNHCR will enhance its capacity to conduct RSD and resettlement submissions, as the only durable solution available to refugees. It will seek access to all asylum-seekers and effective protection for them by the Government. The Office will also facilitate the voluntary return of Sri Lankan refugees and those internally displaced, in safety and dignity, and will assist them to reintegrate through community mobilization projects. While phasing out its programme for IDPs in 2015, UNHCR will liaise with other actors to help ensure a smooth handover.

| Financial information |

UNHCR's overall financial requirements for South Asia have gradually decreased during the past five years, with the 2015 budget set at USD 36.2 million. This trend reflects the downscaling of IDP-related activities in Sri Lanka and the decreasing number of refugees in Nepal's camps. However, Sri Lanka requires resources to ensure protection and basic assistance with increasing numbers of asylum-seekers; Nepal needs resources to sustain the group resettlement programme that is dealing with more complex cases than in the past. Meanwhile, the financial requirements for India have grown, in accordance with the rising number of refugees living in the country's urban areas.

UNHCR 2015 budgets for South Asia (USD)
Operation 2014
Revised budget
(as of 30 June 2014)
Total 38,207,233 30,979,116 2,015,723 2,523,477 652,398 36,170,713
India 13,638,075 14,492,301 101,898 0 0 14,594,199
Nepal 15,440,453 9,596,550 1,794,026 2,523,477 0 13,914,052
Sri Lanka 9,128,705 6,890,265 119,799 0 652,398 7,662,461

Source: UNHCR Global Appeal 2015 Update

UNHCR contact information

The UNHCR Chief of Mission in India
Style of Address The UNHCR Chief of Mission in India
Street Address B-2/16, Vasant Vihar, 110057 New Delhi, India
Mailing Address B-2/16, Vasant Vihar, 110057 New Delhi, India
Telephone 91 11 2469 4256
Facsimile 91 11 4353 0460
Time Zone GMT + 5.3
Working Hours
Monday:9:00 - 17:30
Tuesday:9:00 - 17:30
Wednesday:9:00 - 17:30
Thursday:9:00 - 17:30
Friday:9:00 - 17:30
Public Holidays 01 January 2016, new year
26 January 2016, republic day
24 March 2016, holi
25 March 2016, good friday
06 July 2016, idu'l fitr
15 August 2016, independence day
12 September 2016, bakrid
11 October 2016, dussehra
14 November 2016, guru nanaks birthday
26 December 2016, christmas
The UNHCR Field Office in Chennai
Style of Address The UNHCR Head of Field Office at Chennai
Street Address No 11, 17th Cross Street,, Besant Nagar, 600090 Chennai, India
Mailing Address No. 11, 17th Cross Street,, Besant Nagar, 600090 Chennai, India
Telephone 91 44 2446 1734
Facsimile 91 44 2446 1733
Time Zone GMT + 5.3
Working Hours
Monday:9:00 - 17:30
Tuesday:9:00 - 17:30
Wednesday:9:00 - 17:30
Thursday:9:00 - 17:30
Friday:9:00 - 17:30
Public Holidays 01 January 2016, new year
15 January 2016, pongal
26 January 2016, republic day
25 March 2016, good friday
14 April 2016, tamil new year
06 July 2016, eid ul fitr
15 August 2016, independence day
05 September 2016, ganesh chathurthi
12 September 2016, id ul zuha
11 October 2016, dussehra


Statistical Snapshot*
* As at June 2015
  1. Country or territory of asylum or residence.
  2. Persons recognized as refugees under the 1951 UN Convention/1967 Protocol, the 1969 OAU Convention, in accordance with the UNHCR Statute, persons granted a complementary form of protection and those granted temporary protection. It also includes persons in a refugee-like situation for whom refugee status has, for practical or other reasons, not been ascertained. In the absence of Government figures, UNHCR has estimated the refugee population in many industrialized countries based on 10 years of individual asylum-seeker recognition.
  3. Persons whose applications for asylum or refugee status are pending as at 30 June 2015 at any stage in the asylum procedure.
  4. Refugees who have returned to their place of origin during the first half of 2015. Source: country of origin and asylum.
  5. Persons who are displaced within their country and to whom UNHCR extends protection and assistance. It also includes people in IDP-like situations. This category is descriptive in nature and includes groups of persons who are inside their country of nationality or habitual residence and who face protection risks similar to those of IDPs but who, for practical or other reasons, could not be reported as such.
  6. IDPs protected/assisted by UNHCR who have returned to their place of origin during the first half of 2015.
  7. Refers to persons who are not considered as nationals by any State under the operation of its law. This category refers to persons who fall under the agency's statelessness mandate because they are stateless according to this international definition, but data from some countries may also include persons with undetermined nationality.
  8. Refers to individuals who do not necessarily fall directly into any of the other groups but to whom UNHCR may extend its protection and/or assistance services. These activities might be based on humanitarian or other special grounds.
The data are generally provided by Governments, based on their own definitions and methods of data collection.
A dash (-) indicates that the value is zero, not available or not applicable.

Source: UNHCR/Governments.
Compiled by: UNHCR, FICSS.
Residing in India [1]
Refugees [2] 200,383
Asylum Seekers [3] 5,381
Returned Refugees [4] 0
Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) [5] 0
Returned IDPs [6] 0
Stateless Persons [7] 0
Various [8] 0
Total Population of Concern 205,764
Originating from India [1]
Refugees [2] 10,359
Asylum Seekers [3] 22,414
Returned Refugees [4] 0
Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) [5] 0
Returned IDPs [6] 0
Various [8] 363
Total Population of Concern 33,136
Government Contributions to UNHCR
Contributions since 2000
More info 6,679
As at 15 January 2015
2013 0
2012 0
2011 0
2010 0
More info 2,499,721
Total contribution in USD: 2,499,721 (rank: 25)
Total contribution in currency: 400,000 INR; 2,491,713 USD
Unrestricted contribution (USD): 8,008 (rank: 42)
Donor ranking per GDP: 40
Donor ranking per capita: 52
2008 9,958
2007 9,799
2006 9,001
2005 0
2004 9,017
2003 8,421
2002 8,342
2001 8,637
2000 9,153

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Statelessness in Sri Lanka: Hill Tamils

Most of the people working on the hundreds of tea plantations that dot Sri Lanka's picturesque hill country are descended from ethnic Tamils brought from India between 1820 and 1840 when the island was under British colonial rule. Although these people, known as "Hill Tamils," have been making an invaluable contribution to Sri Lanka's economy for almost two centuries, up until recently the country's stringent citizenship laws made it next to impossible for them to berecognized as citizens. Without the proper documents they could not vote, hold a government job, open a bank account or travel freely.

The Hill Tamils have been the subject of a number of bilateral agreements in the past giving them the option between Sri Lankan and Indian citizenship. But in 2003, there were still an estimated 300,000 stateless people of Indian origin living in Sri Lanka.

Things improved markedly, in October 2003, after the Sri Lankan parliament passed the "Grant of Citizenship to People of Indian Origin Act," which gave nationality to people who had lived in Sri Lanka since 1964 and to their descendants. UNHCR, the government of Sri Lanka and local organizations ran an information campaign informing Hill Tamils about the law and the procedures for acquiring citizenship. With more than 190,000 of the stateless people in Sri Lanka receiving citizenship over a 10-day period in late 2003, this was heralded as a huge success story in the global effort to reduce statelessness.

Also, in 2009, the parliament passed amendments to existing regulations, granting citizenship to refugees who fled Sri Lanka's conflict and are living in camps in India. This makes it easier for them to return to Sri Lanka if they so wish to.

Statelessness in Sri Lanka: Hill Tamils

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