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Sri Lankan refugee boat arrivals mount in India

Sri Lankan refugee boat arrivals mount in India, UN agency reports

More than 1,000 Sri Lankans have fled to southern India since the beginning of the year, the vast majority by boat, because of the upsurge of violence between Government and rebel Tamil forces in the north and east of the island, the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) reported today.

Yesterday alone, 102 people arrived in India’s Tamil Nadu state, the largest number in a single day since the present outflow began, bringing the total to 1,019. They are being housed in camps run by the government, where 60,000 refugees from previous arrivals in the 20-year conflict are living.

“After arriving in India, they told UNHCR they fled because they were scared of the rapidly deteriorating security situation,” Agency spokesperson Jennifer Pagonis told a news briefing in Geneva. “There are reports that more arrivals are on their way, but although we are monitoring the situation closely we are currently unable to verify this,” she added.

Reports have been received that residents leaving Trincomalee district are selling their possessions to pay for the boat trip to India. Some have sought asylum in India before with one family saying they were going to India for the third time, Ms. Pagonis said.

The latest outflow is a complete reversal of what had been happening in 2005, when UNHCR helped 1,173 refugees return home by air to Sri Lanka. Since 2002, when the now fraying ceasefire between the Government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) was signed, a total of 5,000 refugees have returned to Sri Lanka.

Since the beginning of April, when the level of violence sharply increased, some 31,000 people have reportedly been internally displaced in Trincomalee District. UNHCR is now working closely with the Government, UN sister agencies, non-government organizations (NGOs) and other partners to verify how many have returned home after stabilization in some parts of the district.

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