Sri Lanka


Operation: Opération: Sri Lanka



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Key Figures

2019 year-end results
1,400 households received multi-purpose cash grants to meet basic and essential needs
1,000 refugee returnees received cash grants
350 vulnerable individuals departed for Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United States of America through resettlement and complementary pathways
100 primary school-aged children were enrolled in primary education
2020 planning figures
4,000 Sri Lankan refugees assisted to return in safety and dignity
400 refugees have their cases submitted for resettlement consideration

People of Concern Personnes relevant de la compétence du HCR

Decrease in
2019 37,947
2018 42,286
2017 42,766


[["Refugees",1045],["Asylum-seekers",361],["IDPs",25110],["Returned IDPs",10363],["Returned refugees",1068]]
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Sri Lanka

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2019 {"categories":[2015,2016,2017,2018,2019,2020],"budget":[7.662461468999999,6.38291893,5.619438850000001,5.1418295,4.10276525,3.78140857],"expenditure":[5.12725408,3.4119938800000003,3.31217513,2.75104172,2.91453559,null]} {"categories":[2015,2016,2017,2018,2019,2020],"p1":[6.274272789,5.54807908,5.55927245,5.03377608,4.07127589,3.7028738999999997],"p2":[0.11979917,0.04578361,0.0601664,0.10805342,0.03148936,0.07853467],"p3":[null,null,null,null,null,null],"p4":[1.26838951,0.78905624,null,null,null,null]} {"categories":[2015,2016,2017,2018,2019,2020],"p1":[3.87863457,2.7990394700000003,3.29446754,2.6742132799999996,2.88927146,null],"p2":[0.04603959,0.0371832,0.01770759,0.07682844,0.025264130000000003,null],"p3":[null,null,null,null,null,null],"p4":[1.20257992,0.57577121,null,null,null,null]}
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  • 2015
  • 2016
  • 2017
  • 2018
  • 2019
  • 2020

Operational context

Refugees and asylum-seekers

Sri Lanka hosted over 1,400 refugees and asylum-seekers in 2019. On 21 April 2019, over 250 people died in a series of terror attacks that triggered anti-Islamic sentiment and led to a challenging protection environment for people of concern to UNHCR. Asylum-seekers and refugees were particularly affected, with 60% displaced and unable to access support services provided by UNHCR and the Government. These individuals were temporarily relocated for their protection, and most were able to return to their previous residences within 3 months, while some 160 were resettled. Stricter border controls imposed following the April attacks resulted in fewer arrivals during the rest of the year.

During 2019, UNHCR conducted protection counselling, registration, and refugee status determination, and provided documentation and limited material support, to people of concern in Sri Lanka.

The Government continued to release land enabling more sustainable return of internally displaced persons and refugees from abroad, who had fled during the civil conflict. Returnees benefited from limited Government housing and livelihoods support, and UNHCR supported legal services for housing, land and property issues to enable sustainable return.

Population trends

Sri Lanka hosted some 1,050 refugees and 360 asylum-seekers in 2019.

UNHCR registered an average of 50 new arrivals per month during the first three months of the year, followed by a drastic reduction after the April attacks. A total of 300 arrivals were registered for the whole of 2019 (80% of whom were from Pakistan, and 13% from Afghanistan), a 30% decline over 2018.

Over the course of the year, some 1,000 Sri Lankan refugees returned from India. More than 350 refugees departed for third countries, including some 160 for resettlement and almost 200 via complementary pathways.  

By the end of 2019, 25,100 people remained internally displaced, primarily due to landlessness or an inability to access occupied lands since the conclusion of the civil war.


  • Following the terror attacks, UNHCR worked closely with all stakeholders to ensure the safety and needs of people of concern were met.
  • UNHCR worked with third country representatives to enable solutions for vulnerable people of concern.
  • UNHCR facilitated the return of Sri Lankan refugees, providing them with reintegration support on arrival.
  • UNHCR advocated with the Government for refugees’ access to education and work rights.
  • UNHCR trained government officials on refugee rights

Unmet needs

Material assistance was available for only a portion of those in need, in light of long waiting periods and the inability to work. UNHCR was able to support only primary education for refugee children, without adequate resources to support their secondary education or any education for asylum-seeker children.

Operational environment

UNHCR will strive to maintain the protection space and pursue durable solutions for refugees and asylum-seekers in urban areas. People of concern will be registered and undergo refugee status determination (RSD) in accordance with the procedural standards. Resettlement, as a durable solution and a means to safeguard the asylum space, will continue albeit at decreasing numbers. UNCHR will also work to build the government’s ownership of asylum by providing technical support, strategic coordination, and capacity building. Advocacy for people of concern to access to public schools and work in line with the 2030 SDG Agenda, and partnerships with UN agencies, NGOs and religious groups will remain pillars of UNHCR’s community-based work. UNHCR will pursue stronger engagement of the rule of law entities, such as the Human Rights Commission and Legal Aid Commission.

Key priorities

In 2019, UNHCR will focus on:
  • Continuing to work with the Governments of India and Sri Lanka to increase the successful voluntary return and reintegration of Sri Lankan refugees;
  • Building linkages with additional partners who can incorporate urban refugees into national programmes, in light of the decreased resettlement opportunities.
Latest contributions
  • 09-OCT-2020
  • 06-OCT-2020
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  • 05-OCT-2020
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  • 03-OCT-2020
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