June 19, 2012
The Department of Immigration and Emigration has given a two week deadline for foreign refugees and asylum seekers registered with the UNHCR in Sri Lanka to leave or face deportation.
A spokesperson at the UNHCR Colombo office said that since Friday June 8, UNHCR has been receiving reports that these documented refugees and asylum-seekers in Sri Lanka have been issued with letters from the Department of Immigration and Emigration ordering them to leave the country within 14 days or face deportation proceedings, citing overstay of visas.
The eviction order will affect over 300 foreigners in the country including 88 recognized refugees and 243 asylum-seekers registered with UNHCR in Sri Lanka, mostly Pakistani nationals.
The spokesperson says UNHCR is actively making interventions with the relevant Government authorities to withdraw the notice and prevent the deportation of these asylum-seekers and refugees.
A majority of the recognized refugee population live in urban areas in Negombo while there are some families staying elsewhere in Colombo.
A refugee is a person who owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable to or, owning to such fear, is unwilling to avail her/himself of the protection of that country.
Persons who are fleeing armed conflict or civil unrest in their home countries can also be considered refugees. Refugees often return home after a conflict is over, and that’s happening here with some Sri Lankan refugees returning home from exile abroad.
An asylum-seeker is someone who has made a claim that he or she is a refugee and is waiting for that claim to be accepted or rejected.
As the government doesn’t have its own national asylum legislation, UNHCR, under an agreement with the government undertakes refugee status determination—that is what we call the detailed process of interviewing and assessing each individual’s story as to why they left their home country.
“Then, if they are determined to be refugees, we do our utmost to try to find a solution for these refugees. Normally, there are three solutions – repatriation (if they want to return home), integrating into the country where they have sought asylum, or resettlement to a third country. In Sri Lanka, the government doesn’t allow refugees to stay here, and only a tiny number wish to return home, so UNHCR looks for countries which can offer resettlement to these refugees. That also can take time and depends on the goodwill of these resettlement countries. Until resettlement takes place, UNHCR provides each recognized refugee family with a modest monthly subsistence allowance and also ensures that refugee children have access to education.,” the UNHCR spokesperson said.
(Report by Easwaran Rutnam for the Colombo Gazette)