Formal name: Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka
Estimated population: 18,732,400 (mid 2001)
Map: UNHCR June 2003 - http://www.unhcr.org/cgi-bin/texis/vtx/publ/opendoc.pdf?tbl=PUBL&id=40c573b97&page=publ
University of Texas - http://www.lib.utexas.edu/maps/middle_east_and_asia/sri_lanka_pol01.jpg
Forced migration in Sri Lanka is strongly associated with ethnic conflict and two decades of civil war. While deteriorating relations between Sri Lanka's two main ethnic groups (the Sinhalese and Tamils) led to some migration beginning in the 1950s, the onset of civil war in 1983 saw a massive increase in displacement, especially amongst Sri Lanka's Tamils. Since then, conflict-induced displacement has occurred internally, to nearby India, and further afield to other parts of the world (particularly to the West). The scale of displacement from Sri Lanka - some 700,000 internally displaced and another 700,000 emigrating over twenty years - has not been as large as for some other displaced groups around the world. However, the relative importance of forced migration has been massive: about one in every two Sri Lankan Tamils has been displaced, and about one in every four now lives outside Sri Lanka. Forced migration from Sri Lanka has also gained prominence because people of Sri Lankan origin have consistently ranked amongst the largest groups seeking asylum in Europe, North America and Australasia.
A ceasefire signed in early 2002 between the main protagonists in the conflict has ushered in the most promising period in Sri Lanka's recent volatile history. Since then, flows of forced migrants from Sri Lanka have slowed and some internally displaced people (IDPs) have been able to return to their home. However, despite the relative stability brought by the ceasefire, a permanent political settlement in Sri Lanka still seems a long way off. In particular, the suspension of direct talks between the government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), political instability in Colombo, divisions within the LTTE, and the slow progress of development work in the north-east are obstacles to IDP return and refugee repatriation. Many of the causes of forced migration in Sri Lanka are yet to resolved.
- BBC Country Profile - http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/south_asia/country_profiles/1168427.stm
- CIA World Factbook 2003 - http://www.cia.gov/cia/publications/factbook/geos/ce.html
- Conflict and Ethnicity in Sri Lanka, INCORE (June 2001) - http://www.incore.ulst.ac.uk/cds/countries/srilanka.html
- Demanding Sacrifice: War and Negotiation in Sri Lanka (Accord, Issue 4, August 1998) - http://www.c-r.org/accord/sri/accord4/index.shtml
- Library of Congress Country Studies - http://lcweb2.loc.gov/frd/cs/lktoc.html
Sri Lanka, known formerly as Ceylon, is an island of some 65,000 square kilometres located in the Indian Ocean off the south-eastern coast of the Indian subcontinent. There is evidence that the island has been inhabited for several millennia, and that there was considerable interaction with traders and settlers from nearby regions. The arrival in 1505 of the Portuguese on the island ushered in a period of 450 years of colonial rule. The Dutch drove the Portuguese from the island in the mid-1600s and the British gained control at the turn of the nineteenth century.
A century and half of British rule had a significant impact on the colony's political institutions, economic structure and ethnic make-up. By the 1830s the British had unified the island under a single colonial administration and began in earnest the development of a plantation economy based on export crops. Much of the requirement for plantation labour was met by indentured labour brought largely from Tamil-speaking parts of India. This added to an already diverse population which included Sinhalese (who spoke Sinhala and were predominantly Buddhist), Tamils (who had been resident primarily in the north-east of the island, spoke Tamil and were predominantly Hindu), Muslims (most of whom were resident in the eastern coastal districts and spoke Tamil), and mixed descendents of Europeans (sometimes called Burghers).
After limited self-government from the 1920s, Ceylon emerged as an independent country in 1948. Since then the country's leaders have wrangled with the twin challenge of achieving sustainable economic development and ensuring political harmony, particularly between the main ethnic groups. Progress on both fronts has been mixed. Sri Lanka has out-performed its regional neighbours in term of economic growth, and has achieved substantial improvements in human development. However, despite strong growth, the country has lagged behind many of the South-East Asian economies which, though similarly placed in the 1950s and 1960s, have experienced very rapid development in recent decades. On the political front, while Sri Lanka has managed to maintain a fairly robust democratic system, the country's political institutions have failed to prevent or ameliorate growing inter-ethnic tensions in the decades since independence. By the 1970s the Tamils in the north-east had begun agitating for self-determination and, by the early 1980s, several Tamil militant groups had emerged. A tragic episode of anti-Tamil rioting in 1983 left several thousand Tamils dead and generally marks the beginning of a cycle of violence and war from which the country has yet to emerge. Two decades on, a ceasefire signed in 2002 between the state and the LTTE, the largest and most dominant Tamil militant group, marks the end of the war, but the political settlement of the conflict still seems way off.
- Timeline from Accord - http://www.c-r.org/accord/sri/accord4/chronology.shtml
- Timeline from the BBC - http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/south_asia/country_profiles/1166237.stm
Sri Lanka's population is highly heterogeneous: differentiated across ethnic, religious, linguistic, caste and regional lines. Yet, despite this diversity, Sri Lanka's population is most often differentiated, through both official ascription and collective self-identification, along ethnic or communal lines. In numerical terms, at the time of the last available island-wide census in 1981, the Sinhalese made up around 74 per cent of the population, while north-eastern Tamils (13 per cent), Muslims (7 per cent), and up-country Tamils (6 per cent) were the most significant other groups. An important distinction is drawn between those Tamil-speaking people of Sri Lanka who reside in or originate from the island's north-east (often called 'Sri Lankan Tamils' in official literature) and those who live in up-country areas in the south (sometimes called 'Indian Tamils' or 'estate Tamils' because the ancestors of many migrated from India during British rule to work on tea estates). In political terms, these groupings have tended be the basis for most, though by no means all, political conflict in Sri Lanka. Table 1 indicates some of the similarities within groups and diversity between groups.
|Group (per cent of total population)||Religion (per cent of group)||Language
Language figures may not add up to 100 per cent because of multi-lingual and illiterate respondents.
|Region (per cent of group resident in region)|
Rest of the country 97.5
|North-eastern Tamil 12.6||
Rest of the country 65.0
|Indian Tamils 5.5||
Estate areas include the up-country districts of Kandy, Nuwara Eliya & Badulla.
Estate areas include the up-country districts of Kandy, Nuwara Eliya & Badulla.
- Description of ethnic groups, mirrored from Library of Congress - http://countrystudies.us/sri-lanka/38.htm
- Regional map of ethnic groups and religion, Library of Congress - http://lcweb2.loc.gov/frd/cs/sri_lanka/lk02_02b.pdf
Sri Lanka has a proud early record of democratization. By 1931, when Ceylon became the first British colony in Asia to have a system of universal suffrage, the colony had limited self-government through a State Council consisting mostly of elected members (fifty out of sixty-one). In the period since independence there were frequent and peaceful changes of government: there was a change of government on six occasions after the seven general elections between independence in 1948 and the late 1970s.
This volatility was mostly due a first-past-the-post electoral system in place since 1931 and the dominance of two major, largely Sinhalese-based parties. The leftist United Front (UF) coalition, led by the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), swept to power, securing around 75 per cent of the seats in Parliament with around half of the popular vote, in 1970, and used its super-majority to enact a new Constitution in 1972. The new Constitution changed the country's name to Sri Lanka and made it a republic with a figurehead president as head of state. The situation was dramatically reversed in 1977, when the main opposition party, the United National Party (UNP), managed to win some 83 per cent of parliamentary seats with just over half of the total vote. Another overhaul in 1978 resulted in the enactment of the Constitution that is still in effect today. Under this system, Sri Lanka has a semi-presidential system of government, with a directly elected executive president as well as a directly elected legislative chamber. Currently, the unicameral 225-member legislature is elected through a party-list proportional representation system from twenty-two multi-member seats, and from party-nominated regional and national lists. The prime minister and cabinet come from the party or coalition commanding a majority in the legislature.
The UNP retained both the presidency and a parliamentary majority from 1977 to 1994. From 1994 to 2001, an SLFP-led coalition was in power, and between December 2001 and April 2004, Sri Lanka experienced an uncomfortable 'co-habitation' in which the president, Chandrika Kumaratunga, belonged the SLFP while the prime minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe, was from the UNP. The rivalry between these parties and two personalities, meant that relations between the arms of government were not smooth and, towards late 2003, began to hamper progress in the peace talks with the LTTE. Elections in April 2004 did produce a clear majority but a coalition including the SLFP and the leftist Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) has maintained a parliamentary majority, thus ending the period of co-habitation.
Apart from the two major Sinhalese-dominated parties, there are several other political parties which have regularly won parliamentary seats. This includes several Tamil parties, which are currently in coalition under the banner of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) and won some twenty-two seats in the April 2004 elections, several Muslim parties (including the Sri Lankan Muslim Congress, SLMC, which has been part of governing coalitions), and several smaller Sinhalese nationalist parties.
- Information on president, parliament and government - http://www.priu.gov.lk/index.html
- Links to political parties - http://www.politicalresources.net/sri_lanka.htm
The rise of Tamil nationalism
One of the most notable features of political developments in Sri Lanka since independence has been growing ethnic tensions between the largest ethnic group, the Sinhalese, and the next biggest group, the north-eastern Tamils. These 'communal' tensions were fuelled by Sinhalese perceptions that Tamils had been favoured by the British colonialists and were, on average, richer, better educated, more likely to be literate in English, and heavily over-represented in higher education and public sector employment. Successive Sri Lankan governments enacted a series of discriminatory policies aimed at 'correcting' Tamil advantage in education and employment. Changes in the Constitution have also been enacted to give the Sinhala language and the Buddhist religion a prominent place.
Tamil political leaders began to voice concerns over their exclusion from political power and the discriminatory nature of language, education, and employment policies. Several incidents of anti-Tamil violence starting in 1956, growing Tamil frustration at the broken promises of Sinhalese leaders, and anger over state-sponsored Sinhalese settlement of Tamil areas served to compound Tamil fears of Sinhalese domination and fuelled Tamil nationalism.
During the 1970s Tamil protests changed in their nature and intensity. The stated aim of Tamil political aspirations went from equality under the rubric of a single (unitary or federal) state to one of secession. In the same period those aspirations were increasingly being sought beyond electoral means and through militancy. Several militant groups emerged during the 1970s and, allegedly with the financial and technical support of sections of the Indian government, began to carry out increasingly daring attacks on the Sri Lankan armed forces. One such attack in July 1983 resulted in the deaths of thirteen Sri Lankan soldiers near Jaffna, Sri Lanka's second largest city and the capital of the Tamil-dominated Northern Province. Capitalizing on the ensuing hysteria in the Sinhalese-dominated South, mobs of Sinhalese targeted Tamil residents and businesses in Colombo. The resulting pogrom is estimated to have left several thousand Tamils dead.
The events of 1983 mark the watershed in the island's descent into a separatist civil war. Intermittent encounters between the Sri Lankan armed forces and several Tamil militant groups became more regular and intense through the 1980s. The militants sought an independent state of 'Tamil Eelam' covering about one-third of the island's area, an aspiration that has been unacceptable to successive governments in Colombo and an overwhelming majority of the Sinhalese polity. The challenge of accommodating Tamil aspirations and dealing with Tamil militants has dominated the Sri Lankan political landscape for over two decades, and continues to do so.
- Historical context from Accord - http://www.c-r.org/accord/sri/accord4/background.shtml
- Sri Lankan Tamil society and politics from Tamil Canadian - http://www.tamilcanadian.com/cgi-bin/php/page.php?index=75
When Ceylon emerged from colonial rule in 1948, the country seemed poised for considerable economic success. Much of the southern part of the island is blessed with a double monsoon and conditions well-suited for agricultural production, the plantation economy was generating valuable export earnings and economic growth, and the population enjoyed a relatively high quality of life compared with other developing countries.
Sri Lanka's progress since then can be characterized in one of two ways: that of sub-optimality or relative robustness. The former view highlights the problems that have resulted from factors such as policy inconsistencies, corruption and the impact of war. Sri Lanka's average GDP growth per capita between 1975 and 2001 was 3.4 per cent per annum, while the East Asia and Pacific region grew at 5.9 per cent per annum When compared to the rapidly industrializing 'tiger' economies of South-East Asia with which Sri Lanka was once favourably compared, the country has done poorly. The latter view highlights Sri Lanka's relatively high growth rates and human development achievements despite these challenges. When compared with its South Asian neighbours, Sri Lanka has done relatively well, especially in meeting the basic needs of most of its population.
Whatever one's judgement may be, two decades of war have come at considerable cost. On the macro scale, there has been significant loss, disruption, and curtailment of production. Sri Lanka's military expenditure, consistently running at around 5 per cent of GDP during the late 1990s, has been the highest in South Asia and one of the highest in the world. At the micro scale, local economies, especially in the north-east, have been seriously constrained, individuals have found it difficult to pursue their livelihoods, and there have been limited opportunities for human development, particularly because of the disruption to education. There have also been significant costs associated with the destruction of economic infrastructure and the disruption of economic life due to such things as curfews and road closures, particularly in the war-affected north-east. The total costs of the war, including forgone investment and tourism, runs into billions of dollars and have severely limited Sri Lanka's economic development. Current average per capita income is around US$850, placing Sri Lanka at the lower end of middle-income countries.
- The Economic Development of Sri Lanka: A Tale of Missed Opportunities, report by Donald Snodgrass (1998) - http://www.cid.harvard.edu/hiid/637.pdf
- Sri Lanka: Recapturing Missed Opportunities, report by World Bank (2000) - http://lnweb18.worldbank.org/sar/sa.nsf/8b211d2239d56913852567d7005d8e54/a3666e0769cab4a0852569290044bc39?OpenDocument
- Statistics on the cost of war - http://payson.tulane.edu/ices/Ethnic_Conflict/cost_of_war.htm
Causes and consequences
Two decades of civil war
Few would have imagined in the early 1980s that the civil war between Tamil militants and the Sri Lankan state would be so protracted and intractable. The mid-1980s saw several militant groups engage the Sri Lankan armed forces and each other in sporadic battles throughout the north-east. In 1987 there was a pause in fighting with the arrival of an Indian Peacekeeping Force (IPKF) to attempt to broker a settlement. The presence of the IPKF was eventually resented by both Tamil militants and sections of the Sinhalese polity. Following the IPKF withdrawal in 1990, hostilities eventually resumed between a strengthened LTTE, which had emerged as the dominant Tamil group, and the Sri Lankan state. Major battles were fought in the early 1990s until the election, in 1994, of an SLFP-led coalition under Chandrika Kumaratunga on a manifesto of peace. Negotiations between delegates of the government and the LTTE broke down in early 1995, and hostilities resumed on an even larger scale. Late in 1995 the LTTE lost control of the city of Jaffna and its surrounds (an area that the LTTE had controlled during the early 1990s). The late 1990s saw most battles take place in the rural hinterland of the north-east known as the Vanni, though sporadic attacks on army establishments in Jaffna and bombings in Colombo did take place.
In late 2001, following the election this time of a UNP-led coalition on a platform of peace, negotiations began again. With facilitation provided by envoys of the Norwegian government, the LTTE and the government signed an indefinite ceasefire in February 2002. The agreement permitted the LTTE to retain control of large parts of the Vanni, and the establishment of border points to allow movement of people and goods between government- and LTTE-controlled areas (something that had been very difficult during the war). A neutral observer mission staffed by Scandinavian monitors was also set up. In late 2002, following a joint appeal to donors for funds to reconstruct the north-east, the two parties began direct peace talks. Several rounds of talks took place in international locations, and considerable progress was made on several fronts, especially with regard to economic development. However, citing the slow pace of progress in the delivery of a 'peace dividend' to the people of the north-east, the LTTE withdrew from talks in April 2003. In late 2003 the ceasefire agreement was put under further pressure when hostilities between the 'co-habiting' president and prime minister resulted in the Norwegians withdrawing their facilitation. Since the April 2004 elections, the newly elected coalition government has found it difficult to establish a consensus position from which to negotiate and, at the time of writing, direct negotiations are yet to resume, though Norwegian facilitation has resumed. These developments and the numerous unresolved issues have underpinned the fact that, despite the ceasefire continuing to hold, there is a long way to go before a permanent settlement can be arrived at.
- Draft Needs Assessment for north-east, UN Agencies, 2003- http://www.peaceinsrilanka.org/Downloads/Assessment of Needs (Draft).pdf
- Government Peace Secretariat - http://www.peaceinsrilanka.org/
- Key Actors from Accord (1998) - http://www.c-r.org/accord/sri/accord4/key_actors.shtml
- PowerPoint presentation on Sri Lanka's post-conflict needs, World Bank, 2003 - http://www.peaceinsrilanka.org/Downloads/April 14 Presentation (no pictures) PH.ppt
- Timeline and documents relating to post-ceasefire developments, Refugee Council (UK) - http://www.refugeecouncil.org.uk/downloads/publications/sri_lanka_timeline.pdf
The duration and intensity of war in Sri Lanka has been a major cause of displacement. Given that almost all of the fighting has taken place in the north-east, it is not surprising that almost all of those who have been displaced have come from this region. Given the ethnic make-up of the region, it is also not surprising that the displaced have been predominantly Tamil.
While the exact impact of the war on the north-east is impossible to estimate, it is clear that the conflict has taken an immense toll. At least 60,000 people are estimated to have died as a direct result of the war, with almost all of those deaths taking place in the north-east (noting that some would have been armed forces serving in the region). Extensive fighting, including conventional combat involving large battalions and heavy munitions, has destroyed much of the region's physical infrastructure. Key economic infrastructure such as irrigation systems have also been destroyed or neglected, and critical markets for goods and services have been absent or severely disrupted. There have been low levels of investment (public and private) in war-affected areas, severe disruption to education, and considerable damage to ecosystems. Thus, in the Sri Lankan case, the destruction caused by the conflict meant that those fleeing from war were also often fleeing from severe disruption of their livelihoods.
There is also evidence to suggest that forced migration from the north-east was self-reinforcing. As many fled their erstwhile homes, those who remained were left with reduced economic and social opportunities. Often there was not enough critical mass to keep local economies alive, forcing even more people to leave. With fewer opportunities for stable incomes and less incentive to invest productively, the economic breakdown in the north-east leaves many with one of two options: fight or flight. In either case there is little to lose. This is supported by evidence (
Displacement in the north-east was often associated with major events. For example, the
Multiple displacement as a result of fighting has also been commonplace. In some cases families have been compelled to move several times. A survey of 281 families in 2000 by
It is clear that conflict-induced internal displacement in Sri Lanka has occurred on a massive scale. Official estimates show that the number of IDPs peaked at over one million people in late 1995, nearly half of the north-east region's population. By early 2002, just before the signing of the ceasefire, there were estimated to be some 683,286 IDPs, including 174,250 people at the 346 welfare centres around the island (
IDPs in Sri Lanka can be classified according to a number of measures. Most importantly, some IDPs have spent all or some of their displacement in camps or welfare centres set up by the government or non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Others chose not to enter these camps or centres, and fended for themselves within the north-east, in the border areas surrounding the north-east or in other parts of the island, particularly Colombo. Some IDPs are returnees from other countries, usually from India (via transit camps set up to receive them) or occasionally repatriated asylum seekers from the West.
In a situation somewhat different from the bulk of Sri Lanka's IDPs, there are approximately 100,000 Muslims who were evicted from homes in Jaffna and Mannar by the LTTE in 1990. Most of this group settled in the districts in Puttalam, Anuradhapura, and Kurunegala, and many remain there even after the ceasefire. Their long-term residence and participation in local economic activities has led to major changes in the local socio-economic context. However, this group has yet to achieve political inclusion in their new homes and the resettlement of those amongst this group who are prepared to return will need particularly sensitive handling.
- Article on Muslim IDPs from Lines Magazine by Shahul Hasbullah (2002) - http://www.lines-magazine.org/Art_Nov02/Hasbulla.htm
- Data on past and current levels of IDPs at the Global IDP Project pages - http://www.db.idpproject.org/Sites/idpSurvey.nsf/wCountries/Sri+Lanka
- Report on impact of forced migration on local economies of the Northwest by N. Shanmugaratnam (2000) - http://www.nlh.no/noragric/publications/workingpapers/noragric-wp-22.pdf
Refugees and migrants
The events of 1983 and the civil war since then have had a huge impact on conflict-induced migration from Sri Lanka. These movements can be classed into three broad categories. First, most Tamils already abroad and reluctant to return had more reason (and justification) for staying away permanently. Across Europe and North America, thousands of Tamil students and guest workers lodged asylum claims. Second, the emigration flows of professional and middle-class Tamils gathered strength. Some of this group migrated for education and employment to the West, or to take up contracted appointments in countries as far afield as Nigeria, Papua New Guinea or Guyana (though many of these people ended up in the West). Third, the events of 1983 mark the start of the widespread conflict-related flows of Tamils seeking asylum overseas and later through family reunion programmes. It is this third group that has contributed the most numbers to the Tamil diaspora as well as attracted the most attention.
According to the UNHCR, some 256,307 people of Sri Lankan origin applied for asylum in Europe between 1980 and 1999, making Sri Lankans one of the top ten groups of claimants during this period (
In June 2001, the UNHCR estimated the stock of internationally displaced Tamils
to be 817,000, most of whom are/were refugees or asylum seekers (
Other causes of displacement
Sri Lanka's largest integrated development project, involving building numerous dams, generating hydroelectricity and irrigating large sections of the dry zone in the north-east, has been a cause of displacement, though not to the scale of conflict-induced displacement. From the 1960s, the development of the Mahaweli region has been controversial. Not only were some local residents displaced through the scheme, including small communities of Sri Lanka's indigenous forest-dwelling people, but the scheme also involved large-scale resettlement from the South (Sørensen 1996). While the resettlement was largely voluntary, the arrival of predominantly Sinhalese people into what was considered part of the Tamil homeland fuelled Tamil grievances.
There has been periodic disaster-induced displacement in Sri Lanka. Most recently, in May 2003, severe flooding in the south-west coastal regions resulted in more than 120 deaths and 150,000 families being displaced temporarily.
Though this does not fall under the category of forced migration, it is worth noting that Sri Lanka has one of world's highest rates of voluntary short-term labour migration. More than 500,000 workers are estimated to be working predominantly as labourers and domestic workers mostly in the Middle East. Almost all of these migrants are Sinhalese and most hail from poor, rural regions in the south. In many ways, this form of short-term migration is a reaction to the poor economic opportunities facing many Sri Lankans because of uneven development, partly as a result of the war. Some IDPs, particularly Muslims displaced in 1990, have also taken up the labour migration option.
- Flooding in south-west, map - http://www.reliefweb.int/w/map.nsf/wByCLatest/74C7A8E1CA17807285256D340053307C?Opendocument
- Mahaweli Development Scheme and displacement of indigenous tribes - http://vedda.org/6-mahaweli.htm
- Paper on the migration and development nexus - http://www.cdr.dk/migdevwall/papers/SriLankaCaseStudy.doc
Needs and responses
Institutional framework for assistance
There have been mechanisms in place to help IDPs in Sri Lanka since the very early anti-Tamil riots soon after independence. These voluntary and informal operations were became more formalized after the events of 1983. The government set up the first 'Welfare Centres' around the island to deal with displaced Tamils, and created the post of Commissioner General for Essential Services (CGES) to oversee this seemingly temporary problem and to provide short-term relief. This was the first of numerous ministries, agencies, schemes, and committees that were established by the Sri Lankan state to cater for the ever-changing requirements of IDPs. Throughout the last two decades, the government has, through one or more of these bodies, provided at least essential care for IDPs in Sri Lanka. Since the late 1980s, this has been coordinated through the Unified Assistance Scheme (UAS), which laid down criteria for provision of dry rations to displaced families by the CGES. The state has been helped in this task by local NGOs and charities, as well as international organizations.
During the period in which the IPKF were in Sri Lanka, the government invited UNHCR to oversee the return of refugees from India. UNHCR established Transit Centres and some 40,000 refugees are thought to have returned between 1987 and 1989. When hostilities broke out again, more people fled towards India (including the returnees) and UNHCR established Open Relief Centres (ORCs) at strategic points en route to India. UNHCR was to remain in active management of these ORCs and some Welfare Centres until 1998, when it began gradual withdrawal from these tasks.
From late 1995 the scenario changed considerably as several hundred thousand IDPs fled into the LTTE-controlled Vanni, where there was little infrastructure to handle such displacement. Since then UNHCR and several international NGOs have been involved in the care of these IDPS, in conjunction with the LTTE. Thus, during the late 1990s and to the signing of the ceasefire, responsibility for IDPs in Sri Lanka lay with a number of actors, sometimes working in collaboration. In almost all cases, and particularly those in the LTTE-controlled areas, assistance was determined to a large extent by security imperatives. The war context meant that all relief operations were constrained by the strategic interests of both LTTE and the Sri Lankan armed forces.
- Paper on the application of the Guiding Principles in Sri Lanka by Danesh Jayatilaka - http://www.idp.ntnu.no/Register/UpLoadFiles/Paper Jayatilaka Danesh.pdf
- Paper on Government Welfare Centres, UNHCR - http://www.db.idpproject.org/Sites/idpSurvey.nsf/wViewCountries/D37D58B4D267CE27C1256A49004D6437/$file/WORKSH_UNHCR_Sept2000.pdf
- See government agencies below
While there is still some way to go before a permanent settlement to the Sri Lankan conflict, or even to a return to normality in some parts of the island, the post-ceasefire period has held some promise for the country. The government and the LTTE, with the active support of international donors and the business sector, identified very early in the post-ceasefire period that reconstructing war-affected areas and promoting island-wide economic development was the priority in conflict resolution (see
In terms of forced migration, the ceasefire has, at least for the time being, started to shift Sri Lanka out of the vicious cycle of conflict and displacement into a more virtuous one of reconstruction, development, and peace-building. Several post-ceasefire developments are worth noting. First, there have been much lower levels of political migration from Sri Lanka to the West in the post-ceasefire period. According to the UNHCR's Global Refugee Trends (
Second, the needs of the displaced have emerged as another priority in the post-ceasefire period. The government and the LTTE have explicitly stated their joint focus on stepping up humanitarian mine action, and accelerating resettlement and rehabilitation of IDPs. The UNHCR and other international agencies and donors have been actively involved and have provided material support for resettlement programmes. There has also been some voluntary repatriation from the refugee camps in Southern India and some repatriation from the West has also begun, but on a much smaller scale (see below for estimates). However, it is unlikely that the process of resettlement, especially involving returnees from outside Sri Lanka, will reach completion until a permanent settlement to the conflict is reached and a return to war is very unlikely.
Third, with such a large proportion of the north-east's population having been displaced over the last two decades, their return and rehabilitation will be key to the successful reconstruction of the region. However, the resettlement of IDPs and other returnees during this interim period raises some other complex challenges. An effective balance will need to be achieved between short-term relief and long-term development activities in the region. While the former has been occurring to some degree, prospects for the latter depend to a large degree on the political situation. Resettlement during the pause-in-conflict situation (rather than post-conflict situation) has involved particular needs. This include such basic requirements as ensuring food security because agricultural land has yet to be rehabilitated, de-mining and mine education, and the provision of psychosocial care for those most affected by the war. Those involved in resettlement have also had to deal with complex issues of how to assess and coordinate relocation needs, as well as questions of land rights.
It is also worth noting that the post-ceasefire
period has also seen the first
concrete steps in the resolution of a long-standing migration-related issue. Many Sri Lankan residents who are descendants of Indians brought to Sri Lanka largely as indentured labourers have long been denied the right to Sri Lankan citizenship. Recent legislative changes have meant that these hitherto 'stateless' people can claim citizenship (
- Article on HSZs, TamilNet (2003) - http://www.tamilnet.com/art.html?artid=8640&catid=13
- Land and Property Rights of IDPS, CPA Paper, February 2003 - http://www.cpalanka.org/research_papers/Land_and_Property_Rights_of_IDPs.pdf
- Refugee Council (UK) report on HSZs (2002) - http://brcslproject.gn.apc.org/slmonitor/July2002/high.html
The issue of IDP resettlement is intricately connected to the prospect of a permanent solution. Some of the most complex and contentious issues in the resolution of the conflict also involve IDPs and returnees. The demarcation of large tracts of land in and around Jaffna as High Security Zones (HSZs) by the Sri Lankan armed forces has prevented the return of many IDPs to their erstwhile homes. There is also evidence of the existence of chains of displacement, with some IDPs not being able to return to homes outside the HSZs because they are being occupied by other IDPs who cannot return to their homes within the HSZs.
The armed forces have justified the need for HSZs, into which civilians are not allowed, on the basis of security until a permanent settlement is reached. Meanwhile, the LTTE has insisted the HSZs are dismantled both for its military implications but also to facilitate resettlement. Disagreement on how to proceed on the presence and extent of HSZs has emerged as a sticking point in negotiations and is likely to remain so for some time yet.
Since the ceasefire, the Ministry of Rehabilitation, Resettlement, and Refugees and UNHCR have been engaged in a joint project to collect data on IDPs, based largely on small-scale household surveys. The estimate of the number of IDPs from this exercise, carried out in mid-2002, was 613,220. Given that some people had already begun moving in mid-2002 and that the survey did not have complete coverage, the total number of internally displaced at the start of the ceasefire was thought to be around 800,000.
Some 63 per cent of the surveyed IDPs indicated that they would like to return home, while a quarter indicated that they wanted to remain where they were, 3 per cent said they would like to move to a new place, and 7 per cent remained undecided. The survey indicated that considerable assistance would be needed by almost all IDPs in the north-east, including cash to build homes, building materials, schooling, cultivation facilities, and employment opportunities.
By 1 January 2003 there were some 447,000 IDPs of concern to the UNHCR in Sri Lanka (
- Article on ending internal displacement by Ariyaratne, 2003 - http://www.fmreview.org/FMRpdfs/FMR17/fmr17.14.pdf
- Joint government and UNHCR survey of IDPs, 2003 - http://www.peaceinsrilanka.org/insidepages/RRR/RRRdocs/UNHCR21feb2003.asp
- Map of flows of IDP returnees from January 2002 to August 2003 - http://www.reliefweb.int/w/fullMaps_Sa.nsf/luFullMap/10A33FC3B2C595DF85256DC600576BCF/$File/unhcr_idpJanAug_sri0803.pdf?OpenElement
- Report on IDP returnees, Refugee Council (UK), 2003 - http://www.refugeecouncil.org.uk/downloads/rc_reports/srilanka_idps.pdf
Returnees from India
Official estimates of the number of Sri Lankan refugees residing in India, mostly in camps, stand at around 80,000. A relatively small number of these refugees have been returning to Sri Lanka, either with the assistance of UNHCR or on their own. By the end of September 2003, UNHCR had assisted 3,955 people to repatriate to Sri Lanka since the ceasefire (
- Map of returnees from UNDP (2003) - http://www.reliefweb.int/w/fullMaps_Sa.nsf/luFullMap/10A33FC3B2C595DF85256DC600576BCF/$File/unhcr_idpJanAug_sri0803.pdf?OpenElement
Returnees from the West
The question of how many migrants and refugees have returned or will return to Sri Lanka is difficult to answer. The unfinished nature of conflict resolution has meant that very few have been prepared to return permanently. This uncertainty has also meant that Western states have been reluctant to forcibly repatriate asylum seekers, though failed claimants have been returned.
If a permanent resolution is reached, the reintegration of any returnees from the West, especially those who have claimed asylum from the persecution by the armed forces or militants, is likely to require special measures to ensure a smooth transition.
- Report on returnees, Refugee Council (UK) (2002) - http://www.refugeecouncil.org.uk/downloads/rc_reports/srilanka_uncertainty.pdf
There is evidence to suggest that high numbers of children are engaged in employment in Sri Lanka, especially amongst the displaced. A lack of alternative has meant that children, including girls, are often engaged in low-paid work, often in seasonal agricultural activities. Part of the challenge of effective resettlement will be to restart vital education services that have been severely disrupted and also to provide opportunities for productive employment.
High rates of death and incapacitation amongst males in the north-east, compounded by the prevalence of young males amongst emigrés, has increased the incidence of female-headed households and left a slight gender imbalance in the north-east. This has proved to be a difficulty in a highly patriarchal society and posed extra challenges for those facilitating resettlement. Some of the policies and procedures for the distribution of assistance and compensation are inequitable in their application to women. One particular problem is that lists of families provided by the government for use by donors and agencies are compiled according to male family members, meaning that the assistance must be provided through these male family members. Similarly, there is a need to ensure that compensation to women whose husbands or sons have disappeared or died is established as a right - something that the Sri Lankan government may be reluctant to do given the immense scale of compensation claims. Further, female-headed households may need increased levels of assistance because they may have to hire labourers to help with rebuilding on and clearing the land (
- Report on child labour amongst IDPs by Hasbullah (1999) - http://repository.forcedmigration.org/show_metadata.jsp?pid=fmo:1958
- Report on displaced children by USAID (1999) - http://www.dec.org/pdf_docs/PDABS672.pdf
The Tamil diaspora
The cyclical and dynamic relationship between the displaced and events at home means that international actors, such as the Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora, have been key to understanding the course of events in Sri Lanka (
In the post-ceasefire scenario, the importance of the Tamil diaspora has become more prominent. The relative size and economic wealth of the Tamil diaspora has made it an important contributor to the reconstruction and economic development of the north-east, perhaps outweighing government and donor assistance. At the very least, diaspora visitors alone will have injected significant funds into the local economy of the north-east. Assistance to displaced Tamils in the north-east has occurred at several levels, from small, informal, private gifts to family members in the north-east to help with rebuilding livelihoods to formal diaspora aid organizations in which the diaspora has been instrumental. Key organizations such as the Tamil Rehabilitation Organization (TRO), an NGO founded by the Tamil diaspora but with a significant presence in the LTTE-controlled north-east, serve as an important link between the diaspora and IDPs. The TRO also facilitates the work of international donors and agencies in the north-east.
As noted above, the government's institutional response to the changing needs of the displaced in Sri Lanka has itself evolved over time. Currently, several government bodies exist to meet the requirements for resettlement, most of which are coordinated through the Ministry of Rehabilitation, Resettlement, and Refugees (MRRR). However, several other ministries (the Ministry of Eastern Development and the Ministry for Assisting Vanni Rehabilitation) and agencies are involved in the broader project of reconstruction and development, raising the possibility that the response has not been as effectively coordinated as it could have been. There are also concerns that a shortfall in resources is a major limiting factor affecting the ministries concerned with reconstruction and resettlement (
International donors and agencies
The international response to the situation in Sri Lanka has been sustained through the years of war and heightened in the ceasefire period. At the broad level of economic development, international donors provided invaluable assistance during the early 1990s, though aid levels fell during the late 1990s. The ceasefire signalled a renewed interest by donors to become involved in Sri Lanka to bolster the peace process. Apart from diplomatic involvement to facilitate and support the negotiators, not just by Norway but also by other Scandinavian countries, Japan, Germany, Switzerland, Canada, the UK, and the US, there has been renewed donor interest in funding reconstruction and development efforts. Donors showed their commitment to getting involved even before direct negotiations had begun during a specially convened aid conference in November 2002. This resolve was strengthened such that in June 2003, when a donor conference was held in Tokyo, some 4.5 billion dollars worth of assistance was pledged over the coming years. This included the largest ever Sri Lanka programme by the Asian Development Bank (
Several international agencies have been
involved in assisting the displaced in Sri Lanka. The post-ceasefire situation has shifted the emphasis from relief to resettlement. In 2002 the UNHCR spent some 6.2 million dollars in Sri Lanka, representing a substantial increase on previous commitments (
- Asian Development Bank (ADB) - http://www.adb.org/SLRM/default.asp
- International Monetary Fund (IMF) - http://www.imf.org/external/country/LKA/
- UNICEF - http://www.unicef.org/infobycountry/srilanka.html
- United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) - http://www.undp.lk
- United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) - http://www.unhcr.org/cgi-bin/texis/vtx/country?iso=lka
- United States Agency for International Development (USAID) - http://www.usaid.gov/locations/asia_near_east/countries/srilanka/srilanka.html
- World Bank - http://www.worldbank.org/lk
Numerous international NGOs have operated and continue to operate in Sri Lanka. During the war, many of these NGOs had projects aimed at assisting the displaced, often in border areas near the north-east. Since the ceasefire, several NGOs have increased their operations in the north-east. Many of these efforts continue to be coordinated through the Consortium of Humanitarian Agencies, a Colombo-based forum to which all the major foreign and local NGOs involved in humanitarian activities belong.
- Amnesty International - http://web.amnesty.org/library/eng-lka/index
- Care International - http://www.careinternational.org.uk/cares_work/where/srilanka/
- Centre for Policy Alternatives (local research and policy organization that has worked on displacement issues) - http://www.cpalanka.org
- Consortium of Humanitarian Agencies (the most important coalition of NGOs working in Sri Lanka) - http://www.humanitarian-srilanka.org/index.htm
- Derechos Human Rights in Sri Lanka (provides links to various bodies) - http://www.derechos.org/saran/lanka.html
- FORUT: Campaign for Development and Solidarity (Norwegian) - http://www.forut.no/index.php/4466
- Human Rights Watch - http://hrw.org/asia/srilanka.php
- International Centre for Ethnic Studies (local research organization that has worked on displacement issues) - http://www.icescolombo.org
- International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) - http://www.icrc.org/Web/eng/siteeng0.nsf/htmlall/sri_lanka?OpenDocument
- Médécins Sans Frontieres (MSF) - http://www.msf.org/countries/index.cfm?indexid=22D115E3-BEC7-11D4-852200902789187E
- Norwegian People's Aid - http://www.npaid.org/
- OXFAM Community Aid Abroad - http://www.caa.org.au/world/sthasia/sri_lanka/
- OXFAM Great Britain - http://www.oxfam.org.uk/what_we_do/where_we_work/sri_lanka/
- Peace Brigades International (no longer works in Sri Lanka but this site does contain archived material on its previous activities in the country) - http://www.igc.apc.org/pbi/lanka.html
- Refugees International - http://www.refintl.org/content/country/detail/2891
- Save the Children - http://www.savethechildren.lk/
Sri Lankan Newspapers online (English language)
Other online news sources (English language)
InfoLanka (Gateway to Sri Lankan news) - http://www.infolanka.com/news/
Lanka Academic (Gateway to Sri Lankan news) - http://www.theacademic.org/
Oneworld.net (UK-based news service covering NGO-related matters) - http://www.oneworld.net/article/country/144/
Tamil Canadian (regularly updated news on Sri Lanka and the Tamil diaspora) - http://news.tamilcanadian.com
Tamil Guardian (London-based newspaper of the Tamil diaspora) - http://www.tamilguardian.com
TamilNet (news service on Tamil affairs) - http://www.tamilnet.com
Other electronic resources
ADB, ‘ADB Planning its Largest-Ever Program of Assistance for Sri Lanka’,
Ariyaratne, Rupasingha A. 'Sri Lanka: On the Edge of Ending Internal Displacement?',
Arulanantham, A.T. 'Restructured Safe Havens: A Proposal for Reform of the Refugee Protection System',
Bertrand, Didier, 'Going Back, But Where? Forced Repatriation of Tamil Asylum Seekers from Europe',
Centre for Policy Alternatives,
Conciliation Resources (eds), 'Demanding Sacrifice: War and Negotiation in Sri Lanka',
Consortium of Humanitarian Agencies (Sri Lanka)
Danish Refugee Council,
Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs (Australia),
Global IDP Project, Sri Lanka pages -
Hyndman, Jennifer, 'Aid, Conflict and Migration: The Canada-Sri Lanka Connection',
Jens, Nicola et al.,
Refugee Council (UK),
Refugee Council (UK),
Refugee Council (UK),
Sriskandarajah, Dhananjayan, 'The Migration-Development Nexus: Sri Lanka Case Study',
––, Global Report 2002, UNHCR 2002 -
––, UNHCR’s programme for internally displaced persons in Sri Lanka, EPAU, UNHCR May 2002b -
––, Asylum Applications Lodged in Industrialised Countries: Levels and Trends, 2000-2002, Population Data Unit/PGDS, Division of Operational Support, UNHCR, March 2003.
––, UNHCR, Peace in Progress, 2003b.
––, UNHCR, Peace in Progress, 2003c.
United Nations Inter-Agency IDP Working Group,
USAID, Displaced Children and Orphans Fund and War Victims fund activities in Sri Lanka, 1999 -
Recommended online resources
Conciliation Resources (eds), 'Demanding Sacrifice: War and Negotiation in Sri Lanka', Accord, 4 August 1998 -
Global IDP Project Sri Lanka Pages -
Refugee Council (UK), Sri Lanka pages -
Non-electronic resources and bibliography
- Daniel, E.V. and Thangaraj, Y., 'Forms, Formations and Transformations of the Tamil Refugee', in E.V. Daniel and J.C. Knudsen (eds),Mistrusting Refugees
Mistrusting Refugees, Berkeley, CA: University of California, pp. 225-56, 1995.
- Demusz, Kerry,Listening to the Displaced Action Research in the Conflict Zones of Sri Lanka
Listening to the Displaced Action Research in the Conflict Zones of Sri Lanka, Oxfam Working Paper Series, March 2000. Summary available at http://www.id21.org/society/S10bkd1g1.html
- Fuglerud, Øivind, 'Ambivalent Incorporation: Norwegian Policy Towards Tamil Asylum-Seekers from Sri Lanka',Journal of Refugee Studies
Journal of Refugee Studies, vol. 10, no. 4, pp. 443-61, 1997.
- ––,Life on the Outside: The Tamil Diaspora and Long-Distance Nationalism
Life on the Outside: The Tamil Diaspora and Long-Distance Nationalism, London: Pluto Press, 1999.
- Gunatilleke, G., 'The Economic, Demographic, Sociocultural and Political Setting for Emigration from Sri Lanka',International Migration
International Migration, vol. 33, nos 3-4, pp. 667-97, 1995.
- Kearney, Robert N. and Miller, B.D.,Internal Migration in Sri Lanka and its Social Consequences
Internal Migration in Sri Lanka and its Social Consequences, Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1997.
- Kelegama, Saman, 'Economic Costs of Conflict in Sri Lanka', in R. Rotberg (ed),Creating Peace in Sri Lanka: Civil War and Reconciliation
Creating Peace in Sri Lanka: Civil War and Reconciliation, Washington, DC: Brookings Institution, pp. 71-87, 1999.
- Kendle, Andrew Bruce, 'Protecting whom? The UNHCR in Sri Lanka, 1987-1997',Round Table
Round Table, vol. 348, pp. 521-41, 1998.
- McDowell, Christopher,A Tamil Asylum Diaspora: Sri Lankan Migration, Settlement and Politics in Switzerland
A Tamil Asylum Diaspora: Sri Lankan Migration, Settlement and Politics in Switzerland, Providence, RI and Oxford: Berghahn Books, 1996.
- Reliefweb, ‘UN refugee agency launches USD 1 billion 2004 appeal’, 5 December 2003 -
- Schack, B., 'Integrating Protection and Assistance Working with Internally Displaced Persons in Sri Lanka',Refugee Survey Quarterly
Refugee Survey Quarterly, vol. 19, no. 2, pp. 101-109, 2000.
- Seneviratne, H.L. and Stavropoulou, M., 'Sri Lanka's Vicious Circle of Displacement', in Roberta Cohen and Francis Deng (eds),The Forsaken People - Case Studies of the Internally Displaced
The Forsaken People - Case Studies of the Internally Displaced, Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press, 1998.
- Sørensen, Birgitte Refslund,Relocated Lives: Displacement and Resettlement within the Mahaweli Project, Sri Lanka
Relocated Lives: Displacement and Resettlement within the Mahaweli Project, Sri Lanka, Amsterdam: VU University Press, 1996.
- Sriskandarajah, Dhananjayan, 'The Returns of Peace in Sri Lanka: The Development Cart before the Conflict Resolution Horse?',Journal of Peacebuilding & Development
Journal of Peacebuilding & Development, vol. 1, no. 2, pp. 21-35, 2003.
- ––, 'Tamil Diaspora Politics', inThe Encyclopedia of Diasporas
The Encyclopedia of Diasporas, New Haven: Yale/Kluwer, pp. 493-501, 2004.
- Steen, A.-B.,Varieties of the Tamil Refugee Experience in Denmark and England
Varieties of the Tamil Refugee Experience in Denmark and England, Copenhagen: Minority Studies, University of Copenhagen and Danish Centre for Human Rights, 1993.
- UNHCR,Background Paper on Refugees and Asylum Seekers from Sri Lanka
Background Paper on Refugees and Asylum Seekers from Sri Lanka, Geneva: UNHCR, 2001a.
- ––,Asylum Applications in Industrialized Countries: 1980 -1999
Asylum Applications in Industrialized Countries: 1980 -1999, Geneva: Population Data Unit/PGDS, 2001b
- Wayland, Sarah V., 'Immigration and Transnational Political Ties: Croatians and Sri Lankan Tamils in Canada',Canadian Ethnic Studies
Canadian Ethnic Studies, Vol. XXXV, No. 2, 2003.
- UNHCR (2000)Internal Displacement in Sri Lanka
Internal Displacement in Sri Lanka, Colombo Branch Office, November http://www.db.idpproject.org/Sites/idpSurvey.nsf/wViewCountries/C0361792067F3374C1256992003BD168/$file/UNHCR_PAPER_Nov.pdf
- United Nations Inter-Agency IDP Working Group in Sri Lanka (2003)Durable Solutions Progress Reports
Durable Solutions Progress Reports http://www.peaceinsrilanka.org/insidepages/RRR/UNHCR/UNHCRContents.asp