Refugees want to return, says UNHCR

The number of Sri Lankan refugees wanting to return home since the end of the conflict in 2009 is increasing significantly, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) says.

Thousands fled abroad because of the decades-long conflict between government forces and the now defeated Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), which had been fighting for an independent Tamil homeland.

"Many of these refugees have been away from Sri Lanka for years and want to come back, be reunited with their families and pick up the threads of their lives," Jennifer Pagonis, deputy country representative for UNHCR, told IRIN in Colombo on 5 January.

In 2010, the number of refugees helped to return to Sri Lanka jumped to 2,054 against 843 in 2009. Most of the returnees came from refugee camps in Tamil Nadu in India, with several from countries such as Malaysia, the agency said.

Another 2,742 refugees, who returned to Sri Lanka of their own accord, approached the agency's offices in the north for assistance.

UNHCR expects more refugees to voluntarily return in 2011 and is working to making the return process quicker and easier.

"One of the main concerns is reclaiming their land. They also need help with restarting their livelihoods with basic household items and assistance," Pagonis said.

According to the latest Indian government figures, as of 1 November 2010 there were more than 70,000 Sri Lankan refugees living in some 112 camps in Tamil Nadu and 32,467 living outside the camps.

A total of 146,098 Sri Lankan registered refugees are in 64 countries, including India, France, Canada, Germany, UK, Switzerland, Malaysia, Australia, the United States and Italy.