UNHCR, MEA Meet On Asylum Seekers In Lanka
By Easwaran Rutnam
The UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) has had talks with the External Affairs Ministry (MEA) on moves to deport over 200 foreign refugees and asylum seekers.
UNHCR Colombo spokesperson Sulakshini Perera said that the discussion was held last week and that it was ‘positive’.
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.
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 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,” UNHCR said.
UNHCR also said that 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 the 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.
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.