Significant changes have taken place in post-war Sri Lanka that have assisted the improvement in the lives of those affected by displacement and over 480,000 Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) have been able to return to their homes and communities. However, four years after the war displacement continues to be a lagging problem. Persons living in protracted displacement constitute one of the largest groups of those currently displaced. According to the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees (UNHCR), as of December 2012, there were 94,447 persons still living in displacement in Sri Lanka, of whom 75,898 were ‘Old IDPs’ (displaced prior to April 2008). The ‘Old IDPs’ account for a majority of those affected by protracted displacement for whom the process of finding durable solutions is effectively stalled.
This report draws attention to the challenges faced by and efforts of more than 75,000 IDPs who are attempting to find sustainable solutions in the form of the three main settlement options of return, relocation or local integration. Drawing particularly on the cases studies of four separate IDP communities: Tamil IDPs from the Telipallai High Security Zone, Tamil IDPs from Sampur, Muslim IDPs from Northern and Western Batticaloa and Sinhala IDPs from Manal Aru/ Weli Oya the report highlights key shared concerns and differences between these various communities.
Some of those displaced are unable to return due a variety of reasons including the occupation of land by the State for military or economic purposes, lack of assistance and alternate economic means to return, landlessness and occupation of land by other civilians. Even in cases where displaced families have opted for a settlement option and have received assistance to do so, it is apparent that the solution is not durable as per international standards set out in the Framework on Durable Solutions for Internally Displaced Persons. The report also examines the validity and utility of the Framework in the Sri Lankan context and for protracted IDPs.
The report examines the treatment of ‘Old IDPs’ in the post-war context, highlighting the marginalisation of the ‘Old IDPs’ by the Government and the humanitarian sector. It also underlines how protracted displacement shapes choices and efforts of IDPs at finding durable solutions and recommends measures to advance their realisation and advocates the need for designing solutions and assistance that do not follow a cookie cutter model approach, while ensuring equity between the different populations of displaced. Those affected by protracted displacement are more likely to opt for more complex choices in how they exercise return, taking more time and opting for two settlement options until they are able to build their lives back.
While examining the challenges faced by IDPs in their efforts to find durable solutions through the three main settlement options, the report also highlights the need for reviewing problems as they exist on the ground. In addition to the specific issues that distinct displaced communities face, there are more general shared problems. As such conducting a comprehensive survey in the Northern, Eastern, North Central and Northern Western Provinces to identify to what extent durable solutions have been found and whether displacement still continues among the various populations, especially given the ‘hidden’ populations of IDPs and the problems in the current system of recognition of IDPs, will prove crucial to finding a lasting solution to conflict-affected displacement. While the report focuses on protracted IDPs, it serves to underline rather than divert attention from the shared and varied challenges faced by IDPs and refugees and calls for a comprehensive approach to address the needs and rights of the conflict-affected displaced.
This report, authored by Mirak Raheem is the latest in a series of publications and other initiatives undertaken by the Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA) aimed at highlighting the situation of those affected by displacement and providing alternative solutions to address the problems they face. The report, which was commissioned by the Norwegian Refugee Council, was based on desk and field research conducted by CPA in welfare centres and other sites of displacement, return areas, relocation sites and interviews with government officials, humanitarian workers, community leaders and the affected persons.