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2015 UNHCR subregional operations profile - South Asia

| Overview |

UNHCR 2015 South Asia subregional operations map

India, Nepal and Sri Lanka offer asylum to a considerable number of refugees, although they are not signatories of the 1951 Refugee Convention. UNHCR cooperates with the Governments of these countries, as well as with NGOs and other stakeholders, to protect, assist and find durable solutions for refugees and other people of concern.

The main populations of concern to UNHCR in the subregion include more than 200,000 refugees and asylum-seekers of various origins living in India (of whom some 30,000 are registered with UNHCR); nearly 40,000 refugees and asylum-seekers in Nepal (of whom some 25,000 refugees from Bhutan live in two camps); and nearly 2,400 refugees and asylum-seekers, 10,000 returnees, and 30,000 IDPs in Sri Lanka.

All three countries have seen a growing number of people seeking asylum, and this trend is likely to continue in 2015. In the absence of national asylum legislation, UNHCR conducts registration and refugee status determination (RSD), and facilitates the resettlement of vulnerable groups. However, the processing of resettlement submissions for refugees from Bhutan in Nepal is becoming labour-intensive, a situation that is expected to increase as more complex cases are considered. Similarly, the substantial increase in asylum applications in Sri Lanka in 2013-2014 has challenged UNHCR's capacity to conduct RSD and to process cases for resettlement.

Sustainable livelihoods, reliable community-support networks, and access to specialized services for people with special needs, are some of the main challenges faced by refugees in the three countries. In India, poverty is a key challenge for the majority of refugees and asylum-seekers, who may face discrimination from local communities with little understanding of refugee issues. The quality of public health and education in Nepal's camps has been adversely affected by the departure of skilled refugee workers, who were resettled. Meanwhile, in Sri Lanka, refugees, the internally displaced and refugee returnees struggle to meet their basic needs, and the lack of a comprehensive national policy on land rights has had an adverse impact on the sustainability of return. More recently, national security concerns have led to the shrinking of asylum space in Sri Lanka, with the detention of refugees and asylum-seekers, as well as instances of refoulement.

While the three Governments have adopted various approaches to deal with the different refugee populations in their countries, UNHCR fills the gaps in terms of protection, assistance and durable solutions. It focuses on the most vulnerable, including women, children, the elderly, survivors of sexual and gender-based violence, and those with special needs. It also advocates adopting national refugee frameworks and accession to international refugee instruments.

Through stronger partnerships with the various Governments, UNHCR aims to enhance asylum space, including by: identifying opportunities for local integration; improving livelihoods for urban refugees; ensuring the smooth voluntary return of refugees from India to Sri Lanka, and possibly Myanmar; identifying other durable solutions for refugees from Bhutan; supporting a sustainable return for those internally displaced in Sri Lanka, something that is expected to be facilitated by access to land in the north; and ensuring the expeditious resettlement of vulnerable refugees, for whom voluntary return to their countries or local integration is not possible.

In 2015,UNHCR will continue to advocate for a favourable protection environment in South Asia, including freedom from arbitrary detention and refoulement. It will support national capacity-building efforts of the three Governments by training border and other law enforcement authorities, judiciary, lawyers, media, and local NGOs. The Office will work closely with refugee communities to enhance their self-protection and self-assistance capabilities, until a durable solution can be achieved for groups and individuals of concern to UNHCR.

| Response and implementation |

In India, UNHCR will continue to build on the positive understanding it has with the Government regarding refugee issues. It will review opportunities to: incrementally provide direct refugee protection; share biometric data; run regular training sessions on RSD processes; and include particularly vulnerable refugees in government social welfare schemes. The Office will continue to expand its outreach to the Indian public and engage more prominently with new civil society actors, in order to increase refugee access to urban support mechanisms.

In Nepal, the Office will continue the resettlement of refugees from Bhutan and, in close cooperation with other concerned Governments, search for other durable solutions for families remaining in camps. It will continue to advocate a simpler visa-waiver process for urban refugees who are accepted for resettlement and ways to assure the safe transit of Tibetans to India. UNHCR will also seek the issuance of documentation for the long-staying Tibetan population.

In Sri Lanka, UNHCR will enhance its capacity to conduct RSD and resettlement submissions, as the only durable solution available to refugees. It will seek access to all asylum-seekers and effective protection for them by the Government. The Office will also facilitate the voluntary return of Sri Lankan refugees and those internally displaced, in safety and dignity, and will assist them to reintegrate through community mobilization projects. While phasing out its programme for IDPs in 2015, UNHCR will liaise with other actors to help ensure a smooth handover.

| Financial information |

UNHCR's overall financial requirements for South Asia have gradually decreased during the past five years, with the 2015 budget set at USD 36.2 million. This trend reflects the downscaling of IDP-related activities in Sri Lanka and the decreasing number of refugees in Nepal's camps. However, Sri Lanka requires resources to ensure protection and basic assistance with increasing numbers of asylum-seekers; Nepal needs resources to sustain the group resettlement programme that is dealing with more complex cases than in the past. Meanwhile, the financial requirements for India have grown, in accordance with the rising number of refugees living in the country's urban areas.

UNHCR 2015 budgets for South Asia (USD)
Operation 2014
Revised budget
(as of 30 June 2014)
Total 38,207,233 30,979,116 2,015,723 2,523,477 652,398 36,170,713
India 13,638,075 14,492,301 101,898 0 0 14,594,199
Nepal 15,440,453 9,596,550 1,794,026 2,523,477 0 13,914,052
Sri Lanka 9,128,705 6,890,265 119,799 0 652,398 7,662,461

Source: UNHCR Global Appeal 2015 Update



Statistical Snapshot*
* As at June 2015
  1. Country or territory of asylum or residence.
  2. Persons recognized as refugees under the 1951 UN Convention/1967 Protocol, the 1969 OAU Convention, in accordance with the UNHCR Statute, persons granted a complementary form of protection and those granted temporary protection. It also includes persons in a refugee-like situation for whom refugee status has, for practical or other reasons, not been ascertained. In the absence of Government figures, UNHCR has estimated the refugee population in many industrialized countries based on 10 years of individual asylum-seeker recognition.
  3. Persons whose applications for asylum or refugee status are pending as at 30 June 2015 at any stage in the asylum procedure.
  4. Refugees who have returned to their place of origin during the first half of 2015. Source: country of origin and asylum.
  5. Persons who are displaced within their country and to whom UNHCR extends protection and assistance. It also includes people in IDP-like situations. This category is descriptive in nature and includes groups of persons who are inside their country of nationality or habitual residence and who face protection risks similar to those of IDPs but who, for practical or other reasons, could not be reported as such.
  6. IDPs protected/assisted by UNHCR who have returned to their place of origin during the first half of 2015.
  7. Refers to persons who are not considered as nationals by any State under the operation of its law. This category refers to persons who fall under the agency's statelessness mandate because they are stateless according to this international definition, but data from some countries may also include persons with undetermined nationality.
  8. Refers to individuals who do not necessarily fall directly into any of the other groups but to whom UNHCR may extend its protection and/or assistance services. These activities might be based on humanitarian or other special grounds.
The data are generally provided by Governments, based on their own definitions and methods of data collection.
A dash (-) indicates that the value is zero, not available or not applicable.

Source: UNHCR/Governments.
Compiled by: UNHCR, FICSS.
Residing in Sri Lanka [1]
Refugees [2] 848
Asylum Seekers [3] 461
Returned Refugees [4] 231
Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) [5]
More info 50,268
The statistics of the remaining IDPs as at mid-2015, while provided by the Government authorities at the district level, are being reviewed by the central authorities. Once this review has been concluded, the statistics will be changed accordingly.
Returned IDPs [6] 0
Stateless Persons [7] 0
Various [8] 0
Total Population of Concern 51,808
Originating from Sri Lanka [1]
Refugees [2] 122,533
Asylum Seekers [3] 15,504
Returned Refugees [4] 231
Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) [5]
More info 50,268
The statistics of the remaining IDPs at mid-2015, while provided by the Government authorities at the district level, are being reviewed by the central authorities. Once this review has been concluded, the statistics will be changed accordingly.
Returned IDPs [6] 0
Various [8] 15
Total Population of Concern 188,551
Government Contributions to UNHCR
Contributions since 2000
2014 0
2013 0
2012 0
2011 0
2010 0
2009 0
2008 0
2007 0
2006 0
2005 0
2004 0
2003 6,500
2002 5,101
2001 8,539
2000 0

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2012 UNHCR partners in Sri Lanka
Implementing partners
Government agencies:; Ministry of Economic Development; Ministry of Finance and Planning; Ministry of Public Administration and Home Affairs; Ministry of Resettlement
NGOs: Danish Refugee Council; Jaffna Social Action Centre; Muslim Aid; OfERR; Organization for Human Rights and Resources Development; Rural Development Foundation; Saravodaya; Sewalanka Foundation; The Refugee Rehabilitation Organization
Others: Bank of Ceylon; Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka; UNDP; UNOPS
Operational partners
Government agencies:; Ministy of Child Development and Women's Affairs; Ministy of External Affairs; Ministy of Justice; Ministy of National Languages and Social Integration; Ministy of Rehabilitation and Prison Reforms; Ministy of Social Services; Presidential Task Force for Resettlement; Development and Security in the Northern Province
NGOs: Adventist Development and Relief Agency; Care; Caritas; Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions; Christian Aid UK; Deutsche Welthungerhilfe; Habitat for Humanity; Handicap International; HelpAge International; Malteser International; Norwegian Refugee Council; Oxfam; People in Need; Relief International; Save the Children Sri Lanka; Schweizerisches Arbeiterhilfwerk; United Methodist Committee on Relief; World Vision Sri Lanka; ZOA Refugee Care
Others: Asian Development Bank; Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit; ICRC; JICA; World Bank

Sri Lanka: IDPs and Returnees

During Sri Lanka's 20-year civil war more than 1 million people were uprooted from their homes or forced to flee, often repeatedly. Many found shelter in UNHCR-supported Open Relief Centers, in government welfare centers or with relatives and friends.

In February 2002, the Sri Lankan government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) signed a cease-fire accord and began a series of talks aimed at negotiating a lasting peace. By late 2003, more than 300,000 internally displaced persons had returned to their often destroyed towns and villages.

In the midst of these returns, UNHCR provided physical and legal protection to war affected civilians – along with financing a range of special projects to provide new temporary shelter, health and sanitation facilities, various community services, and quick and cheap income generation projects.

Sri Lanka: IDPs and Returnees

Picking Up the Pieces in Sri Lanka

In an unprecedented response to a natural disaster, the U.N. refugee agency – whose mandate is to protect refugees fleeing violence and persecution – has kicked off a six-month, multi-million dollar emergency relief operation to aid tsunami victims in Sri Lanka, Indonesia and Somalia. UNHCR has worked in Sri Lanka for nearly 20 years and has the largest operational presence in the country with seven offices, 113 staff and a strong network of partnerships in place. The day of the tsunami, UNHCR opened up its warehouses in the island nation and began distributing existing stockpiles – including plastic sheeting, cooking sets and clothing for 100,000 people.

UNHCR estimates that some 889,000 people are now displaced in Sri Lanka, including many who were already displaced by the long-running conflict in the north. Prior to the tsunami, UNHCR assisted 390,000 people uprooted by the war. UNHCR is now expanding its logistical and warehouse capacity throughout the island to facilitate delivery of relief items to the needy populations, including in the war-affected area. The refugee agency is currently distributing relief items and funding mobile health clinics to assist the injured and sick.

Picking Up the Pieces in Sri Lanka

Statelessness in Sri Lanka: Hill Tamils

Most of the people working on the hundreds of tea plantations that dot Sri Lanka's picturesque hill country are descended from ethnic Tamils brought from India between 1820 and 1840 when the island was under British colonial rule. Although these people, known as "Hill Tamils," have been making an invaluable contribution to Sri Lanka's economy for almost two centuries, up until recently the country's stringent citizenship laws made it next to impossible for them to berecognized as citizens. Without the proper documents they could not vote, hold a government job, open a bank account or travel freely.

The Hill Tamils have been the subject of a number of bilateral agreements in the past giving them the option between Sri Lankan and Indian citizenship. But in 2003, there were still an estimated 300,000 stateless people of Indian origin living in Sri Lanka.

Things improved markedly, in October 2003, after the Sri Lankan parliament passed the "Grant of Citizenship to People of Indian Origin Act," which gave nationality to people who had lived in Sri Lanka since 1964 and to their descendants. UNHCR, the government of Sri Lanka and local organizations ran an information campaign informing Hill Tamils about the law and the procedures for acquiring citizenship. With more than 190,000 of the stateless people in Sri Lanka receiving citizenship over a 10-day period in late 2003, this was heralded as a huge success story in the global effort to reduce statelessness.

Also, in 2009, the parliament passed amendments to existing regulations, granting citizenship to refugees who fled Sri Lanka's conflict and are living in camps in India. This makes it easier for them to return to Sri Lanka if they so wish to.

Statelessness in Sri Lanka: Hill Tamils

Tsunami Aftermath in Sri Lanka

Shortly after the tsunami hit Sri Lanka, killing over 30,000 people and displacing nearly 800,000, UNHCR was asked to take a lead role in providing transitional shelter – bridging the gap between emergency tents and the construction of permanent homes. The refugee agency is not normally involved in natural disasters, but lent its support to the effort because of the scale of the devastation and because many of the tsunami-affected people were also displaced by the conflict.

Since the 26 December 2004 tsunami, UNHCR has helped in the coordination and construction of over 55,000 transitional shelters and has directly constructed, through its partners, 4,500 shelters in Jaffna in the north, and Ampara District in the east. These efforts are helping some 20,000 people rebuild their lives.

On 15 November, 2005, UNHCR completed its post-tsunami shelter role and formally handed over responsibility for the shelter sector to the Sri Lankan government. Now, UNHCR is returning its full focus to its pre-tsunami work of providing assistance to people internally displaced by the conflict, and refugees repatriating from India.

Tsunami Aftermath in Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka: Home At LastPlay video

Sri Lanka: Home At Last

Grace Selvarani has lived in a refugee camp in India for the past two decades. Today, the Sri Lankan is delighted to be going back home by boat with more than 40 other refugees.
India/Sri Lanka: A Ferry Ride HomePlay video

India/Sri Lanka: A Ferry Ride Home

For the first time in many years, Sri Lankan refugees are returning home from India by ferry.
Sri Lanka: Time to ReturnPlay video

Sri Lanka: Time to Return

A year after the end of the long civil war in Sir Lanka, the government is slowly helping the internally displaced to return home.
Sri Lanka AirliftPlay video

Sri Lanka Airlift

UNHCR has sent in emergency teams and launched an airlift to help those displaced by the violence in the island nation of Sri Lanka.
Sri Lanka AirliftPlay video

Sri Lanka Airlift

To help those displaced by the recent violence in Sri Lanka, UNHCR has launched a humanitarian airlift
Sri Lanka: Decades Of DisplacementPlay video

Sri Lanka: Decades Of Displacement

Each day the conflict in Sri Lanka forces more families to flee their homes. More than 300,000 people have been displaced in the last year alone. UNHCR is attempting to help the newly displaced and those who have been uprooted for years.