Sri Lanka

Humanitarian aid for people displaced by the conflict in Sri Lanka


Location of operation: SRI LANKA
Amount of Decision: EUR 7,000,000
Decision reference number: ECHO/LKA/BUD/2006/01000

Explanatory Memorandum

1 - Rationale, needs and target population.

1.1. - Rationale :

The security situation in Sri Lanka has been deteriorating rapidly since the end of 2005. Many actors had believed that the unprecedented tsunami tragedy would lead to a revival of the peace process but this has not been the case. Instead there have been renewed hostilities, culminating in the suicide bomb attack in Colombo on 24th April 2006 and the resulting bombing of LTTE positions in Muttur East (Trincomalee district). At the end of April the total number of deaths for 2006 was 227, including 78 civilians. An indication of the escalation is clear in the fact that 330 people, including 153 civilians and 90 soldiers, died in the whole of 2005, while in 2004 the fatalities totalled 'only' 108.

The Norwegian Peace Mediator had been able to draw the parties back to the negotiating table in February 2006 but it is not clear whether the talks will continue despite the renewed commitment of both parties towards the peace process as confirmed by the international monitoring mission(1) at the end of April. Particularly worrying is the number of new displacements. During April 2006 alone, over 21,000 people were reported to have left their homes in areas of Trincomalee district(2). This escalation of violence and the consequent high level of displacement highlights the unpredictable and uncertain future for Sri Lanka.

The conflict, waged by Tamil separatists(3) in the north and east of the country, has been ongoing since 1983 and has claimed over 65,000 human lives. Up to 800,000 people have been internally displaced during the 20 years of civil war. Initially, the population was displaced within the Jaffna peninsula and south towards the Vanni region(4). In subsequent years however the conflict has moved steadily further south, leading to massive new displacements of people within the northern and eastern provinces.

The conflict also led to the exodus of over 100,000 Sri Lankan Tamils to Tamil Nadu in the south eastern part of India. According to the latest United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) figures(5) 68,000 Tamil refugees remain in Tamil Nadu, both inside and outside camps.

The ceasefire agreement (CFA) of 22 February 2002 allowed the northern and eastern districts of the country to experience the longest period without fighting since 1983. Many Internally Displaced People (IDPs) have taken advantage of the ceasefire and returned to their land. Of an estimated 740,000 IDPs living inside and outside so called "welfare centres"(6) before the ceasefire, over 407,000 returned to their areas of origin between January 2002 and December 2005(7). The statistics show that the majority of these returned between June and October 2002 and since then the flow of IDPs able and willing to return and resettle has slowly been reducing (from 268,000 in 2002 to 27,000 in 2005).

For the 68,000 IDPs living in "welfare centres" conditions are deplorable: no income, lack of hygiene, lack of safe drinking water and sanitation, alcohol dependency, marginalisation of single-women headed households, violence against women, lack of opportunities for young people. In addition, many of those in the camps are extremely vulnerable: old and disabled people, landless people and women-headed households. UNHCR report that most of the IDPs still residing in "welfare centres" are eager to return if a permanent peace and political settlement can be achieved. However, some are unwilling to return to their places of origin because of their ethnic background or vulnerability, for others resettlement prospects are extremely limited.(8) In any case this population receives much less attention than returning IDPs.

In India the number of refugees living in camps is now around 60,000. Over 18,000 have returned since the ceasefire, 75% of them spontaneously and others through the facilitation of UNHCR and governments. A massive return of the Tamil refugees living in camps in Tamil Nadu is unlikely before a bilateral agreement is reached between the government of India and the government of Sri Lanka. In fact, the recent escalation in violence has led to the arrival of 600 new refugees from Sri Lanka between January and April 2006(9). Although some voluntary return of refugees on an individual basis could continue in 2006, the exact figures will depend on the security situation. According to UNHCR surveys at least 70% of the refugees (around 45,000 people) would like to return to Sri Lanka one day.


(1) The international monitoring mission (SLMM) chaired by a Swedish representative and composed of members of Nordic countries continues to supervise the respect of the ceasefire by both parties.

(2) UNOCHA consolidated report on Trincomalee Displacement, 29 April 2006

(3) Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

(4) The "Vanni" is an area covering partially Mullaitivu, Kilinochchi, Mannar and Vavuniya districts in Northern Sri Lanka.

(5) UNHCR statistics 31 December 2005

(6) Welfare centres: 318 IDP camps in the conflict-affected areas and their bordering districts. They are managed by the Government with some support from UNHCR and other humanitarian actors.

(7) UNHCR and Ministry of Rehabilitation, resettlement and refugees, December 2005.

(8) The IDPs living in the welfare enters in Jaffna have their home located in the high security zones.

(9) UNHCR, Sri Lanka Situation Update No. 13 Week 17-2006 (28 April 2006)