Sri Lanka


Operation: Opération: Sri Lanka



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Key Figures

2017 year-end results
83% of the programme priorities identified by the community have been implemented
1,520 Sri Lankan returnees received cash assistance for NFIs
910 refugees were provided with multipurpose cash grants
470 individuals were registered as asylum-seekers
350 government staff were trained on refugee and international law
190 refugees departed on resettlement
2018 planning figures
100% of households will have their basic and domestic items needs met
100% of persons of concern identified for resettlement departed
100% of return has been voluntary, and carried out in safety and dignity
99% of primary school aged children will  be enrolled in primary education

People of Concern Personnes relevant de la compétence du HCR

Decrease in
2017 42,766
2016 54,409
2015 55,290


[["Refugees",822],["Asylum-seekers",628],["IDPs",39322],["Returned IDPs",408],["Returned refugees",1586]]
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Sri Lanka

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2017 {"categories":[2013,2014,2015,2016,2017,2018],"budget":[10.25360214,8.99170517,7.662461469,6.38291893,5.61943885,5.1418295],"expenditure":[6.5175268,5.90226048,5.12725408,3.41199388,3.31217513,null]} {"categories":[2013,2014,2015,2016,2017,2018],"p1":[7.68964019,7.65152409,6.274272789,5.54807908,5.55927245,5.03377608],"p2":[0.11339244,0.07574243,0.11979917,0.04578361,0.0601664,0.10805342],"p3":[null,null,null,null,null,null],"p4":[2.45056951,1.26443865,1.26838951,0.78905624,null,null]} {"categories":[2013,2014,2015,2016,2017,2018],"p1":[5.49141794,4.87465761,3.87863457,2.79903947,3.29446754,null],"p2":[0.07555571,0.0605343,0.04603959,0.0371832,0.01770759,null],"p3":[null,null,null,null,null,null],"p4":[0.95055315,0.96706857,1.20257992,0.57577121,null,null]}
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  • 2015
  • 2016
  • 2017
  • 2018

Operational context

Throughout 2017, the Sri Lankan Government effectively engaged with UNHCR, other UN agencies, development partners, and donors to find solutions for internally displaced people (IDPs) and Sri Lankan refugee returnees. UNHCR continued to build the capacity of government stakeholders on international refugee protection, translating into a significantly higher number of Sri Lankan refugees voluntarily repatriating with UNHCR’s assistance, and gradual improvement of the asylum and protection space in a non-signatory country without any legal or policy framework for asylum-seekers or refugees in place.

Population trends

The number of arriving asylum-seekers remained relatively steady throughout the year, averaging 40 people per month. This resulted in a 65 percent increase in the number of new asylum-seekers compared to the previous year, making it the largest number of new arrivals in a single year since 2013. The largest number of people came from Pakistan, followed by smaller numbers from Afghanistan, Myanmar and Yemen. The increasing trend of repatriation from India continued.

Key achievements

By December 2017, a total of 1,520, individuals (617 families), who returned through the facilitated voluntary repatriation programme, received a transportation allowance, reintegration grant, and NFI (non-food items) cash grant.Post return monitoring continued to identify protection and assistance needs at the point of return. A consolidated report is being compiled and will be widely circulated among government entities, donor agencies, and other international and national non-governmental organizations.

Unmet needs

As a result of resource constraints, only refugees were provided with financial assistance, which was also limited. The situation of asylum-seekers continues to be difficult as they face relatively long waiting periods of wait for refugee status determination, in an environment where they have no right to work and are in desperate need of support. The monthly subsistence allowance for refugees was not enough to cover the increased cost of living. While UNHCR attempted to provide assistance to vulnerable individuals in both the asylum-seeker and refugee communities, this assistance was limited. Despite advocacy for access of refugee and asylum-seeker children to education, this is yet to be achieved.

Working environment

In 2017, Sri Lanka is expected to advance the positive political transition that commenced with the 2015 presidential elections. Renewed engagement with the international community brought about several gains for the country on international and regional levels. Refugee protection and asylum space have been gradually improving since 2014. With resettlement being the only available durable solution from Sri Lanka, it is likely to attract more asylum-seekers. UNHCR expects near 710 new asylum claims in 2017.

Assuming that the current positive engagement of the Government prevail, increased return of refugees and the internally displaced can be expected in 2017. Nevertheless investment by development actors and others may not be adequate in return areas and may affect the sustainability of return. The Government continues to demonstrate its commitment towards finding durable solutions and greater reconciliation among communities, especially those affected by the conflict. Positive signs, such as release/return of land; reduced military involvement in civilian affairs; improvements in livelihoods, social development, housing, civil documentation; closer ties with India and opening of a refugee return dialogue; reconciliation, peace building and good governance are illustrative of the overall environment and likely to continue in 2017.

Sri Lanka made progress in granting citizenship to those previously stateless by amending the citizenship legislation in 2009. Despite the Government’s efforts in reducing statelessness through legislative changes, some stateless people remain. It is expected that around 25% of the refugees returning from India may be at risk of statelessness. Also there remain some Tamils of Indian Origin living on the tea plantations who may be at risk of statelessness due to lack the necessary documentation. UNHCR has undertaken an assessment of the prevailing statelessness challenges in order to reshape its engagement accordingly, including its advocacy for Sri Lanka’s accession to Statelessness instruments in 2017. 

The Government has released 3,755 acres of land (including areas previously held under High Security and Economic Zones) for returnees enabling resettlement and exploring alternative ways to provide permanent housing to IDPs. 

Key priorities

In 2017 UNHCR’s operation in Sri Lanka will focus on:

•    Enhancing protection space and durable solutions for asylum-seekers and refugees.
•    Facilitating the return of 1,500 Sri Lankan refugees from India.
•    Continuing support to address risks of statelessness, through an analysis of the nationality laws of Sri Lanka with the purpose of identifying gaps between the national legislation and the provisions of the Statelessness Conventions.
•    Building capacity for refugee status determination and durable solutions, and seeking more active engagement of the Government. 

The overall funding for Sri Lanka have gradually decreased over the past years, with concomitant effects on the capacities of the UNHCR operation. Of the 4,000 returnees planned in 2017, only 1,500 people will be assisted with transportation, reintegration and cash grants. UNHCR will be unable to reach its comprehensive target of 90% reduction in those at risk of statelessness in the plantation districts and among returnees from India. The operation also requires resources to provide material assistance to the most vulnerable asylum seekers, transportation support to primary school children.