Security incidents drive more Sri Lankans to flee their homes – UN agency
Security incidents in eastern Sri Lanka are driving recently returned displaced people to flee their homes once again, a spokesperson for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said today, calling on the Government to take measures in response.
“We are seriously concerned about the deteriorating security situation and various incidents reported from return areas in eastern Sri Lanka,” Jennifer Pagonis told a press briefing in Geneva.
“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.”
The agency estimates that some 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.
Ms. Pagonis cited reports of “a number of killings, abductions, incidents of harassment and general insecurity in these areas” which have prompted those who have fled to decide against any return to their villages of origin. “They said their homes have been looted and damaged, and they now have nothing to return to.”
The agency also drew attention to incidents of involuntary returns to Chenkalady in Batticaloa West, where the authorities reportedly told internally displaced people (IDPs) who were unwilling to return that their assistance would be withdrawn if they opted to stay behind.
“We reiterate our call to the Government to ensure that the returns are voluntary, safe and in line with international standards,” said Ms. Pagonis.
Emphasizing that UNHCR should be fully engaged in the process, she urged 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.