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Sri Lanka: Serious concerns about security incidents in east

Briefing notes

Sri Lanka: Serious concerns about security incidents in east

23 November 2007

We are seriously concerned about the deteriorating security situation and various incidents reported from return areas in eastern Sri Lanka.

Around 250 displaced people, who returned to their villages of origin in the Trincomalee district a few weeks ago, after fleeing escalating violence in 2006, fled their homes again this week 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. 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.

Incidents such as these clearly affect the sustainability of returns. Security is one of the main prerequisites for return and it is 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.

UNHCR is also concerned about incidents of involuntary return during yesterday's (Thursday) returns to Chenkalady in Batticaloa West. According to reports, displaced people, IDPs, who were unwilling to return, were informed by local authorities that their assistance would be withdrawn if they opted to stay behind. UNHCR has received a petition from the group of 92 IDPs indicating their unwillingness to return. There are also reports of looting of shelter materials in the Batticaloa district.

We reiterate our call to the government to ensure that the returns are voluntary, safe and in line with international standards. UNHCR should be fully engaged in the process and we urge the government to work with experts in this field to ensure the rights of IDPs, as stated in international humanitarian law, are safeguarded at all times.

UNHCR is 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 in September this year. We are encouraging go-and-see visits by displaced people to the return areas to ensure that returns are fully voluntary and for UNHCR to be fully engaged in the process.