Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Sri Lanka: Sri Lankan refugee returns by sea to begin

Members of a family who left Sri Lanka in 2006 due to the conflict and spent their time in a camp in Tamil Nadu, India, returned home in 2011

The first returns of Sri Lankan refugees by commercial ferry from India will start tomorrow, the United Nations announced today, marking the first time such repatriation is done by sea.

Thirty-seven people from 15 families will make the trip from the port of Tuticorin in India to Colombo in Sri Lanka as part of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees' (UNHCR) voluntary repatriation programme.

In May 2009, the long conflict between Government forces and the rebel separatist group the Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) came to an end. During the final phase of the war, about 276,000 people were displaced, with the majority fleeing to India.

Since then, many Sri Lankans have returned to their homes, but there are still a significant number awaiting repatriation. According to UNHCR, over 1,400 refugees have returned this year, compared to 2,054 last year.

Adrian Edwards, a spokesperson for UNHCR, told reporters in Geneva that this is the first time that refugee returns to Sri Lanka are being done by sea. He said this was of particular significance as many refugees have been waiting for ferry returns so they can take all of their possessions with them.

According to the Indian Government, 69,000 Sri Lankan refugees still live in 112 camps in the country's southern state of Tamil Nadu.