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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2584

UN acknowledges ‘considerable achievements’ in resettlement of IDPs in Sri Lanka

By Sugeeswara Senadhira, Consultant Director (Data & Information), President’s Office

In Sri Lanka has made considerable achievements in resettlement of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in the North and East and the post-settlement assessments confirmed they are secure and free, have access to adequate standards of living and access to livelihoods. The vast majority of resettled have reunited with their families and they have access to effective remedies and justice and access to personal documentation without discrimination.

The above conclusions are from a report published by the United nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) after a comprehensive survey conducted by the organization.,. (A Protection Assessment of Sri Lankan Internally Displaced Persons who have Returned, Relocated or are Locally Integrating -“Tool Three” UNHCR).

The ‘Assessment Report’ was prepared after a survey conducted from November 2012 to March 2013 by UNHCR undertaking ‘a sampling exercise of Sri Lankan Internally Displaced Persons who had returned to their places of origin, had relocated elsewhere or appeared to be locally integrating’.

The preamble of the ‘Assessment Report’ points out that ‘the purpose of the exercise is to assess the current situation of these households according to the global standard, the Inter agency Standing Committee (IASC) Framework for Durable Solutions for Internally Displaced Persons. As stated within the IASC Framework, A durable solution is achieved when former IDPs no longer have specific assistance and protection needs that are linked to their displacement and such persons can enjoy their human rights without discrimination resulting from their displacement. Mere physical movement, namely returning to one’s home, moving to another part of the country or choosing to integrate locally often does not amount to a durable solution, in particular after conflict.

A total of 917 such households were individually visited as a representative sample of the over 138,651 households (of 463,924 individuals) in Jaffna, Kilinochchi, Mullaitivu, Vavuniya, Mannar and Trincomalee Districts. UNHCR field staff Interviewers used a standardized set of more than 100 questions for each household.

In its summary of findings, the UNHCR Report commenting on Safety and Security concludes, Considerable progress has been achieved, but work remains to be done to achieve this theme. Most respondents reported no restrictions on freedom of movement, no serious crimes, and a high confidence in the police. The assessment showed that only 41% of households interviewed in Jaffna district had to undergo military registration.

On access to livelihoods, the Report states that unemployment for respondents is only 0.4 percent more than the national average of 3.9%. In other words, more than 95 percent of the resettled persons are employed.

With regards to access to remedies and justice, the Report confirms total accessibility. ‘Except in land restoration issues, there seems to be no impediment to accessing justice,’ the Report concludes.

On access to personal and other documentation without discrimination, the Report says, ‘Generally Achieved.’ There appear to be no discriminatory barriers to access civil documentation by IDPs and former IDPs. However, a significant minority remain currently without civil documentation, and the capacity of authorities to issue such documentation remains limited in some areas, the Report stated. However, this has been remedied after the civil administration was restored when the first-ever Northern Provincial Council was established after the elections in September 2013.

According to the UNHCR Report, another significant area of progress is ‘Participation of Public affairs’. Considerable progress has been achieved in this theme. Most households (95%) have been able to register as local residents and adults to register to vote, the Report stated.

A significant majority of the resettled IDPs (93%) were satisfied with their household’s durable solution choice of return, relocation or local integration, the Report concluded.

It is surprising and most unfortunate that the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) failed to take note of the positive report submitted by its sister organization, the UNHCR.

Impartial analysts are surprised over the practice of refusal by some segments of the UN system in the application of accepted global standards on Sri Lanka. Accordingly, there is a highly selective and subjective approach towards Sri Lanka, which is disturbing.

Following are some excerpts from the UNHCR Report:

Safety and Security:

Considerable progress has been achieved, but some work remains to be done to achieve this theme. The results are a mixture of positive and negative information, including:

Almost no respondents (1%) reported experiencing a serious security incident against a member of their family since arrival at the place of return, relocation or local integration

Respondents also state a high level of confidence in local civilian law enforcement, with a significant majority of respondents (89%) saying that if a serious crime was committed against their family, they would report it to the police (65%) or local civilian government (24%), contrasting to the few (5%) who would report it to military.

Furthermore, 22% of respondents reported having visited a police station in the past year. 75% of these respondents were Satisfied or Highly Satisfied with the police response.

The vast majority of respondents (96%) report no restrictions on their freedom of movement in and out of their village.

A similar majority of respondents (97%) report their current community treats them no different because they were previously an IDP. There is some difference amongst returnees, relocated and locally integrating persons in these responses, with 9% of relocated and 8% of locally integrating IDPs stating that their communities do treat them differently, compared to only 1% of returnees.

86% of the respondents state that their area is free of landmines/UXOs.

A positive note about military presence is that the military is involved in settling disputes, helping people to build houses and assisting with development activities in the villages.

Enjoyment of an Adequate Standard of Living without Discrimination

IDPs who have achieved a durable solution enjoy, without discrimination, an adequate standard of living, including at a minimum shelter, health care, food, water and other means of survival. Summary Results:

83% of the respondents have access to safe drinking water.

87% of the respondents are satisfied with the quality of education

Food security seems to be a concern. Only 65% of the respondents feel that they have sufficient food. 14% of respondent did not receive WFP food ration.

37% of respondents do not have their own toilet

Access to Employment & Livelihoods

IDPs who found a durable solution also have access to employment and livelihoods. Employment and livelihoods available to IDPs must allow them to fulfill their core socio-economic needs, in particular where these are not guaranteed by public welfare programs.

Summary Results:

Access to employment and livelihoods:
Few systemic obstacles by the Government to accessing employment and livelihoods are reported. However considerable work remains to improve low average income, reduce reliance on infrequent daily work, and reduce high household debt for most respondents.

Data also may indicate that unemployment for respondents is higher than the national average. The results are a mixture of negative information regarding current stability and extent of household income and employment, but balanced by the positive information of only very few.

Average household monthly income Rs. 9,010.

Locally integrating respondents are much more likely to be engaged in a livelihood different than that practiced before displacement (59% compared to 29% of returnees and 38% of relocated).

“What are the major impediments or problems (if any) to restoring your desired livelihood?”, there was a wide range of responses of which over half centered on lack of capital to purchase equipment or to start/expand a small business, rather than any official restrictions to livelihoods.

Restoration of Housing, Land & Property

IDPs who have achieved a durable solution have access to effective mechanisms for timely restitution of their housing, land and property, regardless of whether they return or opt to integrate locally or settle elsewhere in the country.

Summary Results:

Negative that 20% do not live on their own land but positive that 80% of those who do, have a deed, permit or grant or other document for their land.

While it is positive that 94% have applied for land documents, it is negative that so many are still waiting, indicating that the waiting /processing time is long. We do not, however, know how many of these applications eventually get approved so having made an application is not indicative of positive result.

Only 32% of respondents have a permanent house, while the majority, 57% live in transitional or emergency shelters and 6% live with relatives/friends.

Access to Personal and Other Documentation without Discrimination

IDPs who have achieved a durable solution have access to the personal and other documentation necessary to access public services, reclaim property and possessions, vote or
pursue other purposes linked to durable solutions.

In any displacement situation, individuals often lose or damage during flight their key personal identification documents such as birth, marriage and death certificates, national identity cards and school records. When seeking to re-establish themselves, such IDPs find their durable solution hampered by requirements to present such documents before engaging in formal employment, or accessing state services.

In the Sri Lankan context, essential civil documentation includes birth certification as well as (for adults) a National Identity Card (“NIC”). These documents are necessary to access state education, health care as well as many other state services. Additionally, where relevant, family members require a death certificate for family members deceased or long missing due to the former armed conflict in order to access certain legal rights in property matters.

Within the assessment, UNHCR asked questions regarding the possession of these ocuments, as well as any constraints in accessing new or replacement documents, where relevant.

Summary Results:

Access to personal and other documentation without discrimination: Generally Achieved.

There appear to be no systemic discriminatory barriers on access to civil documentation by IDPs and former IDPs. However, a significant minority remain currently without civil documentation, and the capacity of authorities to issue such documentation remains limited in some areas.

Respondents reported a generally high rate of possession of essential civil documentation with 94% of individuals in respondent households possess birth certificates.

Of those persons without documents, no respondent reported that they were denied a Sri Lankan birth certificate, NIC or other essential civil documentation because they were a returnee, relocated or locally integrating IDP.

10% of the respondents report that a family member died since April 2006, but of these only approximately 2/3rds have obtained a death certificate. Amongst the 1/3rd who have not, ma variety of reasons are stated but no respondents reported that they had applied and had been refused due to discrimination. However, among persons not having a birth certificate, 21% of them are children.

Family Reunification

IDPs who wish to reunite with family members from whom they were separated have been able to do so and can seek a durable solution together. Family separated by displacement should be reunited as quickly as possible, particularly when children, older persons or other vulnerable persons are involved.

86% of the respondents stated that entire family accompanied them at current location. Out of
48% of the respondents whose all family members did not accompany gave different reasons.
E.g. ; Missing, in detention, lack of proper housing, for being to retain family unity.

Participation in Public Affairs without Discrimination

IDPs who have achieved a durable solution are able to exercise the right to participate in public affairs at all levels on the same basis as the resident population. This includes:

i) the right to associate freely/participate equally in community affairs,

ii) to vote and to stand for election, as well as

iii) the right to work in all sectors of public service.

We asked questions regarding voter registration principally to lead into follow up questions to identify if respondents had encountered any constraints to voter registration. Without also considering the results of such supplementary questions, we urge caution in implying any cause to low voter registration rates.

With difficulty, and through several drafts, we arrived at a question regarding the perception of freedom of participation in public affairs as well as to discuss one’s political views. We considered, but in the end did not expressly or impliedly request responses regarding a respondent’s specific political opinion or political party membership or attendance at political rallies. We also did not attempt to distinguish discussions of political views with neighbors versus in large groups. After design discussions and testing, we concluded with a simple and open question “How do you feel about discussing your political views in public?”, with the choices “At Ease”, “Not at Ease” or “No Answer”. A subsequent open question regarding any “additional remarks about public affairs” seemed effective in eliciting a variety of views.

Summary Results:

Participation in Public Affairs without Discrimination:

Considerable progress has been achieved, but some work remains to be done to achieve this theme. Most households have been able to register as local residents (95%). Most adults have registered to vote, with little statistical difference in non-registration rates of men (10.5%) to that of women (9.5%).

Of these non-registered, few state that they have been refused voter registration. However, half of respondents stated they were “Not at Ease” discussing their political views in public.

The great majority (95%) of all respondents report that their household is registered as local residents at their current location.

There appears no sex-bias in the rate of voter registration, with 89.5% of adult males in respondent households registered to vote, compared to 91.5% of adult females in these

Half of respondents state they are Not at Ease in discussing their political views in public. This rate of unease is higher in Kilinochchi (65%), Mullaitivu (61%) and Jaffna (59%), and lowest in Trincomalee (28%).

Access to Effective Remedies & Justice

IDPs who have been victims of violations of international human rights or humanitarian law, including arbitrary displacement, must have full and non-discriminatory access to effective remedies and access to justice, including, where appropriate:

i) access to existing transitional justice mechanisms

ii) reparations and

iii) information on the causes of violations.

Summary Results:

The majority of respondents (65%) indicated a high level of trust in the police when it comes to the response to crime.

At that 50% of the respondents consider that relations between the police and communities are good.

78% of respondents visited police for various reasons recently and vast majority of them (74%) were satisfied with provided services.

Access to Assistances and Reintegration

Summary Results:

The vast majority of respondents (93%) are satisfied with their decision to return to their place of origin 89% of respondents are planning to stay in their current place including 83% of those who have been relocated

84% of all categories of respondents received NFIs from UNHCR. 76% of respondents received shelter grants assistance. 42% of assessed beneficiaries used the grant to cover everyday expense and only 34% used the grant for house repair.

Those respondents who are planning to move elsewhere indicated the main reason is the lack of livelihood opportunities at their current place of residence.

- Asian Tribune -

UN acknowledges ‘considerable achievements’ in resettlement of IDPs in Sri Lanka
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