Global Overview 2011: People internally displaced by conflict and violence - Sri Lanka

Quick facts
Number of IDPsAbout 125,000
Percentage of total populationAbout 0.6%
Start of current displacement situation1983
Peak number of IDPs (Year)800,000 (2001)
New displacementUndetermined
Causes of displacementArmed conflict, deliberate policy or practice of arbitrary displacement
Human development index97

At the end of 2011, over two and a half years after the defeat in May 2009 of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) by Sri Lankan government forces, hundreds of thousands of people were still in need of humanitarian support related to their displacement. They included around 125,000 people who remained internally displaced, either in camps, with host families or in transit situations, and large numbers of people from among the 448,000 who had registered as returned to their places of origin in the Northern and Eastern provinces, who had not yet been able to reach a durable solution.

Among "new" IDPs displaced between April 2008 and June 2009, more than 227,000 had been registered as returned at the end of the year, while some 49,000 were still living in displacement: over 6,700 in the Menik Farm camp and the remaining 42,000 with host families. In Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu Districts, 15 administrative localities remained closed to return at the end of 2011, with some among them still not tasked for humanitarian demining.

In September 2011, the government set up a "relocation" site near the village of Kombavil in Mullaitivu for the IDPs in Menik Farm. It was not clear whether the site was intended to be temporary or permanent, but the government promised that state land would be allocated to families moving there, transitional shelter and livelihood support provided, and infrastructure developed. Initially the scheme met with some resistance from the IDPs, who did not want to move to another temporary location and did not want to lose their right to return to their place of origin. In November, 72 families originating from closed areas in Mullaitivu were relocated there.

Of some 300,000 "old" IDPs and returned IDPs who had been displaced prior to April 2008, more than 220,000 had registered as returned by the end of 2011. More than 75,000 remained in protracted displacement, most of them with host families. Among them, the majority were from Jaffna and could not return as their areas of origin were still designated as High Security Zones covering 15 complete and 8 partial administrative localities. 4,000 IDPs were from the area falling under the new Special Economic Zone in Trincomalee district (which had previously been part of the Sampur High Security Zone).

Among the "old" IDPs were 75,000 Muslims who had been displaced to Puttalam in 1990 when the LTTE expelled them from their homes. Since 2009, many of them had returned to their places of origin in Jaffna, Mannar and Mullaitivu. In 2011, they were required to de-register as IDPs, but although many registered in their places of origin, large numbers remained in Puttalam at the end of the year.

A number of obstacles were preventing IDPs and returned IDPs from reaching durable solutions in 2011. Many could not access land, shelter or housing, and those who could did not enjoy security of tenure over it. Their access to livelihoods and basic services was also limited. The construction of permanent and temporary shelters was slow in 2011, leaving the vast majority living in inadequate shelters. Overcrowding and exposure to adverse weather conditions left them vulnerable to ill health and other threats.

As a result of the armed conflict, there were many widows and abandoned families among internally displaced and returned households, and many men were either missing or in rehabilitation. Women living in temporary shelters were particularly vulnerable to gender-based violence. Less able to move around safely on their own and with fewer vocational skills and fewer opportunities than men, they also had less access to livelihoods.

Over two and a half years after the end of the armed conflict, the transition to civilian administration that could have been expected had not taken place. The armed forces continued to play a significant role in controlling civilian activities and public administration in the areas which had been affected by the armed conflict, and were also engaging in commercial activities, hindering some returned IDPs' recovery of livelihoods.

Sri Lanka still has no legislation to formalise support to conflict-induced IDPs: a bill to this end introduced in 2008 had not moved forward as of 2011. Meanwhile, humanitarian organisations faced difficulties in meeting displaced people's outstanding needs. A requirement that UN agencies and NGOs obtain permission from the Ministry of Defence to access the Vanni region of the Northern province was lifted in August 2011. However, the Presidential Task Force for Resettlement, Development and Security was still authorised to approve or reject humanitarian projects in the Northern province, and the armed forces had a role in selecting beneficiaries and coordinating humanitarian assistance. This restricted the implementation of specific types of activity, by certain implementing organisations, in particular locations.


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