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 Sriskandarajah 2003 ). This cooperation, aimed at regaining the lost momentum of economic growth and securing funds to rebuild the north-east, has had some positive results. On the economic front, Sri Lankan GDP, after shrinking by some 1.4 per cent in 2001, bounced back to resumed growth of over 3 per cent in 2002 and is expected to have grown by around 5 per cent in 2003. Efforts to bring normality back to the north-east have also had some success. Roads, houses, schools, and shops have been rebuilt, and electricity has been returned to most parts of the Jaffna area. In the LTTE-controlled areas, which started from a much lower economic base, progress has been much slower.
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 ( UNHCR 2003 ), a total of 10,158 Sri Lankans applied for asylum during 2002 in the industrialized countries it surveyed. This figure fell to 8,095 in 2003.While this evidence represents a drop in asylum claims from Sri Lanka after the ceasefire, there has not been a complete stop to asylum claims by people of Sri Lankan origin.
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 ( UNHCR 2003b ).
- 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 ( UNHCR 2004). According to estimates of the UN Inter-Agency Working Group on IDPs, by the end of September 2003, some 331,428 IDPs had returned home, relocated elsewhere, or had been in transit since the ceasefire began ( UNHCR 2003c ). This is around half of all official IDPs. The majority of these returnees actually moved during the calendar year 2002 (approximately 259,343 individuals) and about half of the returnees went to the Jaffna district. Evidence suggests that by late 2003 IDP movements had slowed considerably and that August 2003 recorded the fewest movements since the beginning of the ceasefire period. At the end of the 2003 the UNHCR estimated that there were still 386,104 IDPs in Sri Lanka, some of whom remain in welfare centres.
- 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 ( UNHCR 2003c ) A further 1,800 refugees are in the different stages of the UNHCR-facilitated return process. There is evidence to suggest that many refugees are reluctant to return ( BBC 2003 ).
- 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 ( CPA 2003 ).
- 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 ( Sriskandarajah 2004 ; Venugopal, 2003 ). Several analysts have argued that contributions from migrants fuelled the conflict because members of the Tamil diaspora provided valuable financial support to militants and remittances from migrant labourers provided valuable foreign exchange necessary for the state to make large military purchases. Moreover, it could also be argued that all remittances from all migrants allowed for an amelioration of economic woes through the dampening of the costs of war at both macro and micro levels.
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.
- Sangam (a US-based Tamil diaspora organization) - http://www.sangam.org
- Tamil Eelam Consultancy House, Canada (TECH) - http://www.techcanada.org/
- Tamil Eelam Economic Development Organization (TEEDOR) - http://www.teedor.org/
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 ( Global IDP Project 2003 ). As a response to the material and protection needs of returning IDPs, the government launched a National Framework for Relief, Rehabilitation, and Reconciliation, and defined a joint strategy with the World Bank and United Nations agencies. As a first priority, the MRRR is committed to finding durable solutions for IDPs living in government-run welfare centres.
- Ministry of Rehabilitation, Resettlement, and Refugees (MRRR) - http://www.rehabsrilanka.org/
- Resettlement and Rehabilitation Authority of the North (RRAN) - http://www.rran.org/
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 ( ADB 2003 ), large loans by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, and increased funding by bilateral donors, particularly Japan.
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 ( UNHCR 2002 ). However, an internal review of UNHCR operations in Sri Lanka during 2002 suggests that the agency may not be performing its protection role adequately ( UNHCR 2002b ). The agency has plans to continue its support of IDPs, returnees from India, and others who benefit from UNHCR-funded programmes through 2004 ( Reliefweb 2003 ).
- 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/