Sri Lanka


Operation: Opération: Sri Lanka



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Key Figures

2020 year-end results
1,210 households received multipurpose cash assistance to meet basic needs
208 refugees departed for Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the USA, the United Kingdom and Finland, through resettlement and complementary pathways
198 refugee returnees received reintegration grants
143 refugee children were enrolled in primary education
2021 planning figures
4,000 refugee returnees will receive cash assistance
1,400 refugee households will receive multipurpose cash assistance to meet basic and essential needs
500 vulnerable refugees will depart on third country resettlement
130 refugee children will be provided with access to primary education

People of Concern Personnes relevant de la compétence du HCR

Decrease in
2020 26,560
2019 37,947
2018 42,286


[["Refugees",1013],["Asylum-seekers",225],["IDPs",25013],["Returned IDPs",97],["Returned refugees",212]]
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Sri Lanka

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2020 {"categories":[2016,2017,2018,2019,2020,2021],"budget":[6.38291893,5.619438850000001,5.1418295,4.10276525,3.78140857,3.851408],"expenditure":[3.4119938800000003,3.31217513,2.75104172,2.91453559,2.25814502,null]} {"categories":[2016,2017,2018,2019,2020,2021],"p1":[5.54807908,5.55927245,5.03377608,4.07127589,3.7028738999999997,3.820217],"p2":[0.04578361,0.0601664,0.10805342,0.03148936,0.07853467,0.031191],"p3":[null,null,null,null,null,null],"p4":[0.78905624,null,null,null,null,null]} {"categories":[2016,2017,2018,2019,2020,2021],"p1":[2.7990394700000003,3.29446754,2.6742132799999996,2.88927146,2.21539943,null],"p2":[0.0371832,0.01770759,0.07682844,0.025264130000000003,0.04274559,null],"p3":[null,null,null,null,null,null],"p4":[0.57577121,null,null,null,null,null]}
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  • 2015
  • 2016
  • 2017
  • 2018
  • 2019
  • 2020
  • 2021

Operational context

Sri Lanka hosted 1,011 refugees and 228 asylum-seekers in 2020. With the onset of the COVID-19 and resulting curfews, UNHCR faced challenges in ensuring that the needs of asylum-seekers and refugees were met. The ability of people to seek asylum in Sri Lanka was also adversely affected by the closure of the airport from March 2020. However, UNHCR ensured that refugees were provided with cash assistance and vulnerable refugees and asylum-seekers received dry food rations and necessary medication. UNHCR and IOM facilitated a health hotline that enabled refugees to receive medical advice, follow-up and public health information. UNHCR successfully advocated inclusion of refugees and asylum-seekers as a vulnerable group in the UN’s guidance for socioeconomic response to COVID-19 in Sri Lanka. UNHCR also adapted its assistance programmes to the pandemic, and supported 143 refugee children to access primary school online and 1,031 adults with skills development activities.

Registration, refugee status determination and resettlement interviews commenced remotely. UNHCR provided personal protective equipment supplies, worth USD 83,482, to Government counterparts and partners.

The airport closure from March 2020 due to the pandemic negatively impacted the ability of Sri Lankan refugees in India seeking to return home. Some 207 refugees returned in the first quarter of the year, prior to the travel restrictions, 196 of them facilitated by UNHCR. Returnees benefited from limited Government housing and livelihood support, and UNHCR provided cash assistance and access to legal advice on housing, land and property in order to anchor return for sustainable reintegration.

UNHCR advocated access to Government schools for asylum-seeker and refugee children, and access to legal work for adults including returnees.

Population trends

Sri Lanka hosted 228 asylum-seekers (38.6% female) and 1,011 refugees (38.2% female) in 2020, all living in urban areas in Western Province. The imposition of visa restrictions for particular nationalities, increased vigilance after the terrorist attacks of 21 April 2019 and the airport closure in March 2020 resulted in a 76% decrease in new arrivals in 2020 compared to 2019, and only 58 (32.8% female) new registrations. UNHCR completed refugee status determination for 221 individuals, of whom 176 were recognized as refugees.

The airport closure also impacted refugee repatriation with 213 Sri Lankan refugees returning home from India, 196 of them facilitated by UNHCR. Meanwhile, 25,013 IDPs remain without solutions.

Key achievements

  • UNHCR successfully included refugees and asylum-seekers as a vulnerable group in the UN Advisory Paper: Immediate Socio-Economic Response to COVID-19 in Sri Lanka.
  • UNHCR provided personal protective equipment, sinks, sanitizing products and equipment to 8 hospitals and 7 schools which are attended by refugees.
  • Psychosocial support was provided to 510 refugees and asylum-seekers through virtual counselling sessions.
  • The health hotline instituted with IOM served 1,253 individuals with information, medical advice and follow up.
  • 100 vulnerable refugee returnee families received targeted support to income generation. 

Unmet needs

  • Refugee and asylum-seeker children were not able to attend secondary school as they lack access to Government schools and cannot pay fees for private facilities.
  • Asylum-seekers did not receive systematic assistance and struggled to survive as they cannot work legally and are detained if caught.
  • Refugee returnees had limited shelter and livelihood support. 

Use of flexible funding (unearmarked or softly earmarked funding)

Sri Lanka’s operation has largely benefitted from generous flexible funding which amounted to over USD 2.2 million. They were used for critical support for the refugees and asylum-seekers in the country, such as support to dry rations and medication for all the refugees and asylum-seekers during lockdown due to COVID-19. Flexible funding also enabled a number of lifesaving support such as 1,210 refugees receiving monthly cash-based assistance, 7 hospitals receiving medical equipment, and 54 vulnerable families receiving monthly food vouchers. It was also used to increase support to Government partners during pandemic.

Working environment

The constitutional crisis of October 2018 and the terrorist attacks in April 2019 placed a great strain on the central government and its institutions. With Presidential and general elections expected in late 2019, Sri Lanka’s political environment in 2020 is uncertain. A change in government could affect the pace of reforms which were begun by the government elected in 2015, particularly in relation to reconciliation and transitional justice.

Key priorities

In 2020, UNHCR will focus on strategic protection monitoring, rights-based interventions, and advocacy for the authorities to assume a stronger role in realizing durable solutions. UNHCR will continue to advocate with the Government, UN agencies, development partners, donors and other missions for consistent inclusion of IDPs and refugee returnees in the existing rehabilitation and assistance programmes. UNHCR is working closely with the UN Country Team to ensure that all persons of concern to UNHCR are mainstreamed in the joint UN agenda, including in UN development framework and the evolving SDG work. 
Latest contributions
  • 25-NOV-2021
    United States of America

    private donors

  • 24-NOV-2021
  • Germany
  • 23-NOV-2021
    United States of America

    private donors

  • 22-NOV-2021
    United States of America

    private donors

  • Japan

    private donors

  • 18-NOV-2021

    private donors

  • Argentina
  • Romania
  • Qatar
  • United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
  • 17-NOV-2021

    private donors

  • Germany
  • 15-NOV-2021
    United Arab Emirates

    private donors

  • 12-NOV-2021
  • 11-NOV-2021
  • Angola
  • 09-NOV-2021
  • 08-NOV-2021
  • Hungary