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30,000 returnees in Sri Lanka doing well despite lack of preparation – UN

30,000 returnees in Sri Lanka doing well despite lack of preparation – UN

Some 30,000 displaced Sri Lankan civilians who fled heavy fighting in February between Government and rebel troops have returned home and are doing well despite receiving little advance information about local conditions, the United Nations refugee agency said today.

“We will continue to support the Government in assisting displaced people to return voluntarily, in safety and with dignity,” Jennifer Pagonis, spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said today in Geneva.

The villagers, who left West Batticaloa in the eastern part of the island as the Government fought to dislodge the forces of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), are the first of approximately 90,000 people the Government plans to resettle with the help of UNHCR over the coming months.

“Our staff have made several assessment missions and generally have seen that conditions are conductive for return,” Ms. Pagonis said, aiding that no security incidents or arrests have been reported in Vellawelly, the first resettlement district, since the start of the process.

She said a minority of displaced have opted to stay back for a variety of reasons including concerns about security, shelter, livelihood options, children finishing the current school term or employment in the return locations.

To better inform returnees on local conditions during the second phase of resettlement scheduled to start on 1 June, UNHCR recommended that the Government prepare and distribute relevant information.

It also suggested that more personnel from the Ministry of Resettlement, clearly identified, be involved in the pre-return processing, with the involvement of the military reduced as much as possible.

Finally, it urged the Government to provide clearance for a UN advance assessment team as soon as possible. “It is a priority that agencies have access to areas of return before the return takes place,” Ms. Pagonis said.