The UNHCR said that the number of Sri Lankan refugees returning home has fallen in the first quarter of 2012 compared to the previous year and part of the reason could be the suspension of the Colombo-Tuticorin ferry service from India.
Latest UNHCR statistics show that some 408 individuals voluntarily returned to Sri Lanka with UNHCR’s help during the first three months of this year, nearly a third less than the same period last year when 597 refugees returned.
“It is difficult to say exactly why the numbers are lower, but part of the reason could be the suspension since October last year of the Colombo-Tuticorin ferry service from India. Refugees told us they preferred returning by sea as they could bring more of their household goods home with them,” UNHCR’s Representative in Sri Lanka Michael Zwack said in a statement.
UNHCR stepped up its voluntary repatriation programme at the start of 2011, to support an increasing number of individuals who were returning home. However refugee returns slowed down towards the latter part of the year. A total of 1,728 Sri Lankan refugees returned under UNHCR’s facilitated voluntary repatriation programme in 2011.
Most refugees are returning from government-run camps in the South Indian state of Tamil Nadu. Small numbers have also returned from Malaysia, Georgia, Hong Kong and the Caribbean Island of St. Lucia.
UNHCR provides refugees returning home with a standard reintegration grant as a first step towards helping them restart their lives. Each individual is also provided with a modest transport grant to help them arrange their own transportation back to their villages. Once at their destination in Sri Lanka, these returnees can approach one of UNHCR's six offices, covering the north and east, and in Colombo to obtain a kit of basic household supplies.
Refugees are mainly returning to Trincomalee, Mannar and Vavuniya districts with smaller numbers returning to Jaffna, Kilinochchi, Batticaloa, Colombo, Ampara, Puttalam and Kandy. Sri Lankan refugees abroad who wish to return home can approach the closest UNHCR office in their country of asylum for more information.
According to the latest Indian government figures as of December 2011, there are 68,049 Sri Lankan refugees living in 112 camps in Tamil Nadu and another 32,467 living outside the camps. In total more than 141,000 Sri Lankan refugees are living in 65 countries.