Last Updated: Monday, 30 May 2016, 07:01 GMT

Internal Displacement: Global Overview of Trends and Developments in 2010 - Sri Lanka

Publisher Norwegian Refugee Council/Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (NRC/IDMC)
Publication Date 23 March 2011
Cite as Norwegian Refugee Council/Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (NRC/IDMC), Internal Displacement: Global Overview of Trends and Developments in 2010 - Sri Lanka, 23 March 2011, available at: [accessed 30 May 2016]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Quick facts
Number of IDPsAt least 327,000
Percentage of total populationAt least 1.6%
Start of current displacement situation1983
Peak number of IDPs (Year)520,000 (2006)
New displacementUndetermined
Causes of displacementArmed conflict
Human development index91

At the end of 2010, 19 months after the end of the armed conflict between the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and Sri Lankan government forces, more than 327,000 people who had been forced to flee their homes remained in displacement. Almost 195,000 IDPs had returned, but were still in need of protection and assistance. Among their numbers were people displaced before April 2008 ("old" IDPs and returnees) and people displaced between April 2008 and June 2009 ("new" IDPs and returnees).

"Old" IDPs and returnees received much less protection and assistance in 2010 than people displaced since April 2008. Among them were tens of thousands of people displaced from areas declared as High Security Zones in the Northern and Eastern Provinces, and tens of thousands of northern Muslims who the LTTE had forced to leave in 1990 and who had since been living in protracted displacement in Puttalam. More than 227,000 "old" IDPs remained in displacement in late 2010, while almost 15,000 had returned.

The return of "new" IDPs to their homes continued through 2010. As of October, while 180,000 of them had returned, over 100,000 remained in displacement. More than 26,000 of these were staying in camps and more than 71,000 with host families.

IDPs in camps such as Menik Farm were able to leave temporarily under the pass system set up in December 2009, although this system was not applied consistently across all zones and camps. They received dry food rations, but had difficulty accessing items such as fresh food and baby milk powder. Their access to clean water had significantly improved by the end of 2010. However, shelters in camps had long passed their normal six-month lifespan and many were beyond repair; this became a severe problem in the monsoon season.

Access to health care services was limited, and sanitation and hygiene were poor. Access to education was also limited, as there were not enough teachers in camps.

Those who had returned to their homes remained in need of assistance and protection. The presence of landmines and unexploded ordnance was a major obstacle to return early in the year and led to secondary displacement of some. The government and demining agencies prioritised the clearance of residential areas in 2010. As a result, many surround-ing fields, streams and wells remained contaminated, making farming impossible and keeping returnees dependent on assistance. It is feared that many areas will remain contaminated for years to come. There were many female-headed households among returnee families, and gender-based violence involving military personnel was reported in the return areas.

Returnees, especially those living in remote areas, had only limited access to health services. Sanitation facilities were lacking, as were shelter and housing. There was also a shortage of teachers, and some schools continued to be used to host "separatees", with one school building shared between a "separatee" site and a school.

Many returnees had great difficulty in asserting their rights over land and property, for example if they had lost documents during their displacement or relevant registry offices had been damaged in the armed conflict. Their rights were also formally threatened by Sri Lanka's Prescription Ordinance, which holds that private ownership can only be established if land has been occupied continuously for ten years. Although the northern courts reportedly did not apply this legislation in times of conflict, the non-application has not been codified. In Sri Lanka, land disputes can only be addressed through courts, with an average land case taking from three to five years to resolve, and courts in the north have been swamped with land cases.

Sri Lanka still has no legislation to formalise support to conflict-induced IDPs. The National Protection and Durable Solutions for Internally Displaced Persons Project of the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka introduced a bill to codify the protection of IDPs and promotion of durable solutions to their displacement in 2008; but its enactment did not move forward in 2009 or 2010.

The government's annual budget of October 2010 allocated little to the return of IDPs, but prioritised military spending. Meanwhile, government restrictions on the access of humanitarian agencies to certain areas hampered their attempts to meet IDPs' and returnees' protection and assistance needs. UN agencies and NGOs needed permission from the Ministry of Defence to access the Northern Province, and a Presidential Task Force was responsible for granting access to humanitarian personnel and for approving humanitarian projects in the areas where IDPs and returnees live. No approval was granted for projects focusing on issues central to durable solutions including protection, gender, capacity-building, documentation and legal assistance.

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