Ferry suspension affecting Lankan returnees

The suspension of the Colombo-Tuticorin ferry service has, in part, resulted in a drop in the number of Sri Lankan refugees returning to the island this year, The Colombo office of the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) said.

Latest UNHCR statistics show that some 408 individuals voluntarily returned to Sri Lanka with the assistance of the UNHCR during the first three months of this year, nearly a third less than the same period last year when 597 refugees returned.

“It is difficult to say exactly why the numbers are lower, but part of the reason could be the suspension since October last year of the Colombo-Tuticorin ferry service from India. Refugees told us they preferred returning by sea as they could bring more of their household goods home with them,” the UNHCR Representative in Sri Lanka Michael Zwack said in a statement.

The UNHCR stepped up its voluntary repatriation programme at the start of 2011, to support an increasing number of individuals who were returning home.

However refugee returns slowed down towards the latter part of the year. A total of 1,728 Sri Lankan refugees returned under UNHCRs facilitated voluntary repatriation programme in 2011.

Most refugees are returning from government-run camps in the South Indian state of Tamil Nadu. Small numbers have also returned from Malaysia, Georgia, Hong Kong and the Caribbean Island of St. Lucia.

The Colombo-Tuticorin ferry service commenced in June last year but was suspended in November following a court order.