Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka: 30,000 displaced return home in east

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This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Jennifer Pagonis - to whom quoted text may be attributed - at the press briefing, on 29 May 2007, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

In the east of Sri Lanka, in the two weeks since the launch of the government's resettlement programme in West Batticaloa, some 30,000 displaced people have returned to their homes in the Vellavelly DS division. The authorities plan to return in phases, a total of more than 90,000 displaced people from Batticaloa over the coming months.

We have access to the areas of return and continue to monitor the process. Our staff have made several assessment missions and generally have seen that conditions are conductive for return. Most of the returnees seem happy to be home but had received little prior information about the conditions in the areas of return. No security incidents or arrests have been reported in Vellawelly since the start of the resettlement process.

The resettlement to Vellavelly DS division was scheduled to be completed last Thursday, but a minority of displaced have opted to stay back for a variety of reasons including concerns about security, shelter conditions in return locations, livelihood options, children finishing the current school term, or employment.

We will continue to support the government in assisting displaced people to return voluntarily, in safety and with dignity. From observations made during the first phase of movement, UNHCR has made a few suggestions to the government on strengthening the process during the second phase scheduled to start on 1June. Among the recommendations made was that the government prepare and distribute information notification in advance of the phase II movement so the displaced are well informed about what is happening. We also urged the government to provide clearance for a UN advance assessment team as soon as possible as it is a priority that agencies have access to areas of return before the return takes place.

Another suggestion was for more, clearly identifiable, personnel from the Ministry of Resettlement to be involved in the pre-return processing and the involvement of the military be reduced as far as possible.