UNHCR concerned about security situation in eastern Sri Lanka
GENEVA, November 22 (UNHCR) - The UN refugee agency said on Friday it was seriously concerned about the deteriorating security situation and various incidents reported from return areas in eastern Sri Lanka.
Around 250 internally displaced people (IDPs), who returned to their villages of origin in the Trincomalee district a few weeks ago, have again fled their homes this week. The civilians, who first fled escalating violence last year, have gone back to welfare centres in Batticaloa district after serious security incidents in their villages.
"UNHCR has received reports of a number of killings, abductions, incidents of harassment and general insecurity in these areas. These incidents have made the returns unsustainable for these IDP families," spokeswoman Jennifer Pagonis told journalists in Geneva. "Those who fled to Batticaloa have indicated that at the moment, they have no intention of returning to their villages of origin. They said their homes have been looted and damaged, and they now have nothing to return to," she added.
Incidents such as these affect the sustainability of returns. Security is one of the main prerequisites for return and UNHCR said it was the responsibility of the government to ensure the security of returnees.
"We urge the government to strengthen the return process and build confidence among the returnees. We warn against any further moves towards premature return until these issues are resolved," Pagonis said.
UNHCR is also concerned about incidents of involuntary return on Thursday to Chenkalady in Batticaloa West. According to reports, displaced people who were unwilling to return were informed by local authorities that their assistance would be withdrawn if they opted to stay behind.
The UN refugee agency has received a petition from a group of 92 IDPs indicating their unwillingness to return. There are also reports of looting of shelter materials in the Batticaloa district.
UNHCR reiterated its call to the government to ensure the returns are voluntary, safe and in line with international standards. The agency said it should be fully engaged in the process and the government should work with experts in this field to ensure that the rights of the IDPs are safeguarded.
Pagonis said UNHCR was also advocating with the government to ensure that any moves to return the recently displaced population in the northern region of Mannar is carried out with transparency.
They were displaced after fighting erupted in the region last September. UNHCR is encouraging go-and-see visits by displaced people to the return areas to ensure that returns are fully voluntary and it also wants to be fully engaged in the process.