Sri Lanka


Operation: Opération: Sri Lanka



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Key Figures

2019 planning figures
2,810 refugee returnees will receive cash grants
1,150 households will receive multipurpose cash grants to meet basic and essential needs
80% of people of concern will have access to legal assistance
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

People of Concern Personnes relevant de la compétence du HCR

Decrease in
2018 42,286
2017 42,766
2016 54,409


[["Refugees",800],["Asylum-seekers",742],["IDPs",35473],["Returned IDPs",3849],["Returned refugees",1422]]
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Sri Lanka

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2018 {"categories":[2014,2015,2016,2017,2018,2019],"budget":[8.99170517,7.662461469,6.38291893,5.61943885,5.1418295,4.10276525],"expenditure":[5.90226048,5.12725408,3.41199388,3.31217513,2.75104172,null]} {"categories":[2014,2015,2016,2017,2018,2019],"p1":[7.65152409,6.274272789,5.54807908,5.55927245,5.03377608,4.07162889],"p2":[0.07574243,0.11979917,0.04578361,0.0601664,0.10805342,0.03113636],"p3":[null,null,null,null,null,null],"p4":[1.26443865,1.26838951,0.78905624,null,null,null]} {"categories":[2014,2015,2016,2017,2018,2019],"p1":[4.87465761,3.87863457,2.79903947,3.29446754,2.67421328,null],"p2":[0.0605343,0.04603959,0.0371832,0.01770759,0.07682844,null],"p3":[null,null,null,null,null,null],"p4":[0.96706857,1.20257992,0.57577121,null,null,null]}
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  • 2015
  • 2016
  • 2017
  • 2018
  • 2019

Operational context 

Refugees and asylum-seekers enjoyed a relatively stable environment and access to basic protection and services in Sri Lanka in 2018. UNHCR maintained relations with key government counterparts through bi-lateral and technical meetings and expanded training and sensitization activities as a means of raising awareness and enhancing the capacity of government officials, service providers, targeted groups and the general public.
The Government continued to show its commitment to engage with the United Nations, development partners and donors to find solutions for UNHCR’s people of concern, especially IDPs and returning Sri Lankan refugees. As part of its regular advocacy and awareness raising, UNHCR continued to capacitate government stakeholders and law enforcement personnel on international refugee protection.

Population trends

At year-end, the total number of people of concern in Sri Lanka stood at some 42,250, including 800 refugees, 740 asylum-seekers, 1,380 refugee returnees, 35,470 IDPs and 3,850 IDP returnees.
The number of newly arriving asylum-seekers decreased by 5% compared to the previous year. Close to 440 people were registered with UNHCR in 2018, a slight decrease from 2017, originating from 14 different countries with the majority (86%) from Pakistan.

Key achievements

In 2018, UNHCR conducted registration, documentation and RSD, as well as resettlement as a durable solution. There were no instances of arbitrary arrests, detention or deportation/refoulement. Partnership with relevant Government entities continued through regular technical meetings and via ad-hoc consultations. As a result, the overall protection environment remained stable with asylum-seekers and refugees enjoying basic protection and receiving more timely services.
The operation focused on training and sensitization activities as a means of raising awareness and enhancing the capacity of government officials, service providers, targeted groups and the general public. In the absence of a national asylum/refugee policy or legal framework, UNHCR continued building its RSD capacity and resettlement processing, resulting in, relatively, timely RSD and a solid number of resettlement submissions. UNHCR pursued child protection/BID and education objectives with all refugee children attending primary education and with the conclusion of BIAs/BIDs for most of the UASC cases. Advocacy on access to public schools and access to work for refugee and asylum-seeker populations continued throughout the year.

Unmet needs

Based on policy and on resource constraints only refugees are provided with financial assistance, albeit limited. The situation of asylum-seekers continues to be difficult as they face long waiting periods (around one and a half years) for their first instance RSD interview, in an environment where they have no right to work and are dependent on support.
While UNHCR attempted to provide assistance to vulnerable refugees and asylum-seekers, the assistance remained limited. The lack of access to public education for all children remains of great concern. Refugee children of secondary education age and all asylum seeking children are not assisted to meet their education needs and remain, to a large extent, outside the formal educational environment.
While UNHCR was able to provide assistance to all repatriating refugees upon arrival, its capacity to support a more conducive return environment in the places of origin was limited by the funding shortfall. Despite the Government’s implementation of significant infrastructure projects over the past few years, substantial gaps remain that hinder the sustainability of return.

Operational environment

Sri Lanka has yet to ratify the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol. There is no national legal framework or official policy on refugees and asylum-seekers. While UNHCR’s processing of asylum claims is tolerated under agreement with the Government, asylum-seekers and refugees are still perceived as residing illegally in the country.
While there is more room for dialogue on human rights issues following the presidential and parliamentary elections in 2015, issues relating to asylum are still viewed with a degree of suspicion and reluctance.
The change in the United States of America’s resettlement policy in 2017 is expected to have an adverse impact on the number of submissions and resettlement departures in 2018 and will result in refugees’ longer stay in Sri Lanka.
UNHCR will continue to strengthen its cooperation and coordination with key government stakeholders and advocate for the reinstatement of a regular stakeholders meeting (i.e. the Ministry of Internal Affairs, Wayamba Development and Cultural Affairs, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Department of Immigration and Emigration, State Intelligence Services and the Police). These meetings previously provided space for all parties to raise issues and find constructive solutions. UNHCR will seek to develop the capacity of government stakeholders through trainings with a view to increase understanding of refugee protection and associated issues.

Key priorities

 UNHCR’s strategy will focus on enhancing asylum space; advocating for Government to assume responsibility for refugee management and protection; and securing durable solutions.
UNHCR’s refugee assistance programme will be limited with increasing numbers of refugees in the country, requiring stronger outreach to other operational partners to assist refugees as envisaged under the community outreach strategy. UNHCR will continue to provide limited assistance to refugees by way of a modest monthly allowance, and support for refugee children to access primary education. Secondary school children will continue to receive English language training and adult refugees will have access to English language, IT and some life skill classes. Strategic advocacy on the right to work and access to government schools for asylum-seeker and refugee children will continue.
The number of Sri Lankan refugees repatriating will continue to grow with UNHCR providing reintegration assistance and advocating for the full inclusion of returnees within government support programmes in accordance with the national policy on durable solutions to conflict-affected displacement.    
Latest contributions
  • 11-OCT-2019
    European Union
  • Netherlands
  • Liechtenstein
  • 10-OCT-2019
  • 07-OCT-2019
    United States of America

    private donors

  • 03-OCT-2019
    United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
  • 02-OCT-2019
  • Germany
  • 30-SEP-2019

    private donors

  • United States of America

    private donors

  • Netherlands

    private donors

  • France

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  • Mexico

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  • Italy

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  • Spain

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  • Kuwait
  • Denmark
  • Philippines

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  • United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland

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  • Republic of Korea

    private donors