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UNHCR: Drop in displacement signals Sri Lankan hopes for peace

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UNHCR: Drop in displacement signals Sri Lankan hopes for peace

21 February 2006

Geneva, Tuesday 21 February 2006

A recent decline in displacement prior to the scheduled start of Sri Lankan peace talks in Geneva on Wednesday reflects the desire of the Sri Lankan people for an end to conflict and continued progress toward stability in their island nation, High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres said today.

"We have seen the number of Sri Lankans fleeing regional insecurity, both internally and to India, diminish in the weeks leading up to the Geneva talks," Guterres said on the eve of the meeting between the Government of Sri Lanka and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. "The marked decline in violence since the announcement of talks has had a very positive effect on reducing the pressure on Sri Lankans to flee their homes in fear. I believe this trend also reflects the high expectations of those living in the conflict-affected areas for the upcoming peace talks."

Since mid-December, UNHCR has monitored the flight of nearly 6,000 displaced families from the Jaffna Peninsula and the eastern district of Trincomalee who left their homes as security worsened. The displaced are either staying with friends and relatives in neighbouring districts - putting enormous strain on host families - or have sought asylum in southern India's Tamil Nadu state.

Over a two-month period, nearly 500 Sri Lankan refugees fled to Tamil Nadu, where they are housed at Mandapam Camp in Ramnathapuram District. But the number of new arrivals began dropping sharply this month following the announcement of the upcoming Geneva peace talks.

UNHCR has been working with the Government of Sri Lanka since 1987 to find durable solutions for the 800,000 people displaced in the country's 20-year civil war. Since the Ceasefire Agreement in 2002, more than 400,000 people displaced by the conflict have returned home, while another 325,000 remain displaced.