UNHCR raises refugee issue with MEA

Officials of the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) in Sri Lanka had what it terms as “positive” discussions with the External Affairs Ministry (MEA) over attempts to deport more than 200 foreign refugee and asylum seekers staying in Sri Lanka.

UNHCR Colombo spokesperson Sulakshini Perera said that the discussion was held last week and was hopeful the issue will be resolved.

The two week deadline given to the 88 recognized refugees and 243 asylum-seekers registered with the UNHCR in Sri Lanka to leave or face deportation has already lapsed.

The deadline was issued by the Department of Immigration and Emigration saying they should leave as their visas had expired.

However all the refugees and asylum seekers have not yet been deported. Since Friday 8 June, UNHCR had been receiving reports that the 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.

Almost all of the recognised refugees are from Pakistan. Of the asylum-seekers, a majority are also from Pakistan.

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 recognised refugee population live in urban areas in Negombo, part of the greater Colombo urban area about 40 kms north of the Centre of Colombo, while there are some families staying elsewhere in Colombo.