More refugees and displaced persons would return to their homes in north Sri Lanka this year, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Sri Lanka has predicted.

According to UNHCR data, in 2010, the number of refugees it assisted to return to Sri Lanka was 2,054. In 2009, this was 843. The U.N. body assists in voluntary return of refugees. The assistance covers air ticket, and documentation support. In addition, a reintegration grant also has been introduced to help rebuild lost livelihoods.

Despite the concern over the initial problems, including that of law and order, there has been all-round improvement. The improvements were prompting more Sri Lankan refugees, mainly from Tamil Nadu in India, to start returning home, said UNHCR.

The U.N. body places the total number of Sri Lankan origin of concern at 6.8 lakh. Of this, the internally-displaced account for 4.39 lakh while refugees constitute 1.45 lakh.

“The massive displacement of the population in the north of the country which took place in the final stages of the war, is being resolved gradually. About 195,000 IDPs, forced from their homes during the final fighting, had returned to their homes by August 2010… Returns are expected to continue in 2011,” it said.

But the fact that the returnees are still displaced was an issue that could fuel more problems. “Some IDPs, mainly in the Jaffna and Vavuniya districts in northern Sri Lanka, are still living with host families, and others may remain in emergency sites for some time yet, mainly as mine action in return areas continues. UNHCR continues to advocate for durable solutions for some 212,000 IDPs around the country who fled their homes prior to April 2008,” it said.

Key concerns

UNHCR listed as key concerns the following: lack of personal documentation such as national identity cards, land deeds and birth, marriage and death certificates; the separation of family members by conflict; displacement and rehabilitation procedures, and the urgent need for livelihood support. The statistics with the Rehabilitation Commission in Tamil Nadu indicate that there are 70,354 Sri Lankan refugees living in some 112 camps in Tamil Nadu. Another 32,467 live outside the camps. The UNHCR says there are 146,098 Sri Lankan registered refugees in 64 countries including India, France, Canada, Germany, U.K., Switzerland, Malaysia, Australia, the United States and Italy.

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