Last Updated: Friday, 17 November 2017, 15:16 GMT

U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2001 - Sri Lanka

Publisher United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
Publication Date 20 June 2001
Cite as United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2001 - Sri Lanka , 20 June 2001, available at: [accessed 18 November 2017]
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.

At year's end, more than 600,000 Sri Lankans were internally displaced. Another 110,000 Sri Lankans were refugees in India. Most Sri Lankan refugees and displaced persons were Hindu Tamils, although thousands of Muslims and some Buddhist Sinhalese were also displaced. Sri Lanka hosted only 16 refugees, mostly Iraqis and Afghans.

More than 230,000 Sri Lankans were newly displaced during the year. Many, however, were previously displaced persons who became uprooted yet again. Some returned to their homes or places of habitual displacement within weeks or months.

An estimated 110,000 Tamil refugees lived in India, including 1,620 who newly fled there in 2000. During the year, some 3,300 Sri Lankan refugees repatriated from camps in India without assistance from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Fifteen repatriated with UNHCR assistance during the year.

In 2000, some 12,600 Sri Lankans applied for asylum in Europe (the largest number, 6,040, in the United Kingdom); between January and September, 2,049 applied in Canada, and 119 applied in the United States.

Since the late 1990s, European governments have increasingly returned rejected Tamil asylum seekers to Sri Lanka. In March, Norway became the most recent country to agree with Sri Lanka to carry out such returns. During the year, European countries returned as many as 500 failed Sri Lankan asylum seekers. Switzerland, which returned 123 Tamils to Sri Lanka in 2000, announced in March that it would grant residence to as many as 13,000 asylum seekers, including 5,300 Sri Lankans, whose asylum applications had been pending for more than eight years.

Until May 1998, Sri Lankan authorities temporarily detained upon arrival many of the deportees from Europe. They appeared to end the practice following protests from UNHCR and various governments. According to UNHCR, on the day of their arrival in Sri Lanka, the deportees are questioned by the Criminal Investigation Department (CID). After the CID completes its inquiries, usually on the day of the deportees' arrival, the CID transfers them to Negombo court, from where they normally are released on bail. However, in June, the Forum for Human Dignity, a Sri Lankan nongovernmental organization (NGO), reported that the Sri Lankan authorities were detaining, extorting, and torturing deportees.

Conflict and Displacement

Sri Lankan refugees and displaced persons have been uprooted by a bloody, 17-year conflict that has claimed more than 62,000 lives. The conflict is between government forces that primarily represent Sri Lanka's Buddhist Sinhalese majority and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). The LTTE seeks independence for predominantly Tamil areas of northern and eastern Sri Lanka.

According to the U.S. Department of State, during 2000, both the Sri Lankan armed forces and LTTE tortured detainees and committed extra-judicial killings, including of prisoners of war. More than 100 civilians died during the year because of clashes between government forces and the LTTE. Another 210 civilians died as a result of LTTE suicide bombings.

In October, an attack by Sinhalese villagers on Tamil youths detained in a rehabilitation center in southern Sri Lanka reflected the inter-ethnic hostility that the conflict has fueled over the years. According to a report by the Sri Lankan Human Rights Commission (HRC), a mob of local people from Bandarawela, armed with machetes and knives, attacked the center while the detainees were sleeping. They killed 27 Tamil youths, set fire to the center, and reportedly threw some survivors of the attack onto the fire. The HRC reported that the 60 policemen at the scene did nothing to stop the attack.

In January, the LTTE began a major offensive on the Jaffna Peninsula. It made significant progress through April, when it captured Elephant Pass, the narrow land bridge that connects the peninsula to the rest of Sri Lanka. By early May, the LTTE appeared poised to take Jaffna, Sri Lanka's second largest city. (During the early 1990s, Jaffna was under LTTE control and served as the group's headquarters and the de facto capital of "Tamil Eelam," but government forces captured it in late 1995.)

In late April, Médicins Sans Frontières (MSF) reported that the Sri Lankan authorities were blocking shipments of medical supplies to civilians in the conflict areas. The U.S. Committee for Refugees (USCR) wrote to the Sri Lankan government expressing concern that a medical crisis could arise and urged it to "immediately permit the flow of necessary supplies."

On May 3, the Sri Lankan government introduced emergency regulations that gave the military and police broad authority to detain civilians, restrict freedom of association, and further censor the media.

Also in early May, as LTTE forces advanced toward Jaffna, the LTTE offered to agree to a cease-fire to permit the Sri Lankan forces to evacuate the city, but the Sri Lankan military did not agree. Fearing that a battle for Jaffna could lead to a high civilian death toll, USCR wrote to the Sri Lankan government urging the Sri Lankan military to withdraw from Jaffna, and to the LTTE, urging it to honor the cease-fire. The Sri Lankan forces remained in Jaffna, however, and the battle for control of the city continued. In late May, Human Rights Watch also appealed to both sides to permit civilians at risk to evacuate the area.

According to the U.S. State Department, by June the Sri Lankan military had repelled the LTTE assault on Jaffna, but "the clashes left large numbers of civilians dead or wounded." The fighting also displaced more than 160,000 persons (many of whom were already displaced). An unknown number were able to return home by year's end.

Although the battle for the city of Jaffna ended, fighting on the Jaffna Peninsula continued through the rest of the year, killing hundreds more civilians. In September, some 65,000 persons were again displaced by fighting on the peninsula. According to The Sri Lanka Monitor, NGOs "expressed concern for the 17,000 people in 136 government 'refugee' camps, which lack water and sanitary facilities." The Monitor added that according to MSF, 20 percent of the displaced population in Jaffna were suffering acute malnutrition.

Estimates of the number of displaced persons at the end of 2000 varied. In December, the government said that it was providing food aid to more than 724,000 people. Not all of those were displaced persons, however. The "Global IDP Database" website estimated the displaced population to be about 800,000. However, based on its previous year's assessment, a mid-year report by UNHCR, and information from other sources, USCR estimated the displaced population to be about 600,000 at year's end.

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