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Sri Lanka: Refugee arrivals in India hit 1,000 mark

Briefing notes

Sri Lanka: Refugee arrivals in India hit 1,000 mark

19 May 2006

Our field office in Chennai, India reported yesterday that since 12 January when people started fleeing the deteriorating security situation in Sri Lanka, over 1,000 persons have arrived in Tamil Nadu, southern India - the vast majority by boat. Yesterday, 102 persons arrived, the largest number in a single day since the outflow began, bringing to a total 1,019 refugees who have fled Sri Lanka this year.

The 157 refugees who arrived in the last two days are reportedly from Trincomalee region on the north-eastern coast of Sri Lanka, a considerable distance away from the point of departure in the north-west part of the island. After arriving in India, they told UNHCR they fled because they were scared of the rapidly deteriorating security situation. There are reports that more arrivals are on their way, but although we are monitoring the situation closely we are currently unable to verify this information.

Reports have been received that residents leaving Trincomalee are selling their possessions to pay for the boat trip to India. Some have sought asylum in India before with one family saying they were going to India for the third time.

Once in India, the refugees are housed in camps run by the government where they receive basic assistance. Some 60,000 refugees from previous arrivals since the start of Sri Lanka's twenty year civil conflict are living in these camps.

The latest outflow is a complete reversal of what had been happening in 2005, when UNHCR helped 1,173 Sri Lankan refugees return home by air to Sri Lanka from the camps in southern India. In 2006, we have assisted only 27 refugees to return. Since 2002, a total of 5,000 refugees have returned to Sri Lanka.

In Sri Lanka, there continues to be generalised insecurity in the north and east of the country. Since the beginning of April, when the level of violence sharply increased, some 31,000 people have reportedly been displaced in Trincomalee District. UNHCR is now working closely with the government, UN sister agencies, NGOs and other partners to verify the number of displaced people who have returned home, following stabilisation in some parts of the district.