UN, GOSL, LTTE discuss refugee return from India

[TamilNet, Tuesday, 14 January 2003, 18:53 GMT]
Representatives of the UNHCR, Liberation Tigers (LTTE) and the government of Sri Lankan (GOSL) who took part in a workshop on 'Preparations for Voluntary Repatriation of Sri Lankan Refugees from India' held in Kilinochchi Tuesday stressed that further investments in the northeast remains necessary to create conditions conducive to the "safe and dignified organised voluntary repatriation of refugees from India to Sri Lanka."

At the invitation of the representative of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Sri Lanka, senior representatives of the Sub-Committee on Immediate Humanitarian and Rehabilitation Needs (SIHRN) – including Ambassador Bernard Goonetilleke and Dr. Jay Maheswaran, relevant Ministers and representatives of the Government of Sri Lanka and the UNHCR Chief of Mission in India, attended a Workshop on Preparations for Voluntary Repatriation of Sri Lankan Refugees from India, held Tuesday in Kilinochchi.

Accroding to the joint communique issued at the conclusion of the workshop, the participants:

"1.Welcomed the priority being afforded within the ongoing peace negotiations to durable solutions for those displaced by the conflict in Sri Lanka;

2.Recognised that over one million refugees, asylum-seekers and migrants have left Sri Lanka either as a result of the conflict or for other reasons, and that, among the Sri Lankans still outside the country, an estimated 85,000 are living in India and of these, some 64,000 are within refugee camps in Tamil Nadu;

3. Noted that there exists a right of these persons to return to their country of origin, as set forth in Article 13(2) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 12(4) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and Article 5(d)(ii) of the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination;

4. Undertook to continue supporting, to the maximum extent possible within available resources, the initial integration of all spontaneous, voluntary returnees from India to Sri Lanka, providing them with levels of support which are equitable to that provided to spontaneously returning internally displaced persons, and seeking to ensure their full reintegration into society;

5. Stressed that further investment remains necessary to create conditions conducive to safe and dignified organised voluntary repatriation of refugees from India to Sri Lanka; and

6. Committed to ensuring that programmes to create such conditions of physical, legal and material safety for refugees voluntarily repatriating from India to Sri Lanka under organised arrangements will receive priority in their ongoing work; and

7. Agreed to continue to hold meetings involving the Government of Sri Lanka, the Government of India, the SIHRN, other relevant ministries of the Government of Sri Lanka, UNHCR and other internationally mandated organisations on the subject of voluntary repatriation, facilitated by UNHCR, to co-ordinate and progress the development of conditions conducive to the voluntary, safe and dignified return of refugees.

The participants discussed and noted that, in order to responsibly create conditions which are more conducive to organised voluntary repatriation of Sri Lankan refugees from India:

There remains a need to further improve the conditions of physical security through addressing ongoing human rights concerns, ongoing incidents of violence against civilians, and accelerating the reduction of risks from landmines and unexploded ordinance;

There remains a need to further improve the conditions of legal security through restoring common administrative, independent judicial and democratic policing systems; through ensuring national documentary protection is afforded - including simplified immigration procedures, citizenship and provision of identity cards; through adequate laws to provide for property restitution or assistance and through consideration of appropriate amnesty arrangements where needed;

There remains a need to further improve the conditions of material security, through investment in the restoration of basic services in the districts of origin of Sri Lankan refugees, in order to provide adequate and non-discriminatory health services, education facilities, potable water and sanitation, and means of livelihood and employment;

There remains a need to address logistic issues - including formal arrangements between the Government of Sri Lanka, the Government of India, the SIHRN, other relevant Ministries of the Government of Sri Lanka, UNHCR and other internationally mandated organisations; and including adequate transportation support, with special attention needed to an early evaluation and costing of restoration of the Talaimannar jetty for use as a principal port of entry; and

There remains a need to adequately address the specific protection and assistance needs of women, children and other vulnerable groups amongst those returning," the joint communique concludes.


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