Accelerated programme initiated to assist refugees

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The Ministry of Justice, Prison Affairs and Constitutional Reforms, in collaboration with the Office for Reparations, has initiated an accelerated programme, under the guidance of Minister Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe, to address the issues faced by Sri Lankan Refugees who have already returned and are returning from India,.

A Special Committee, chaired by Justice Ministry Secretary Wasantha Perera,  has been appointed and is engaged in simplifying the processes to provide the relevant documents to returnees without further delay.

The Committee includes the Secretary to the Ministry of Public Administration, all District Secretaries of the Northern Province and representatives from the Presidential Secretariat, Ministry of Defence, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Registrar General’s Department, Department of Registration of Persons, and Office for Reparations.

The issues faced by the Refugees who have returned from India are being addressed by the Office for Reparations (OR), which is a statutory organisation that provides relief measures to the victims of conflict in pursuance of the Office for Reparations Act No. 34 of 2018. On the instructions of the Minister, a separate unit has been established in the Jaffna District Secretariat to facilitate this process.

For the deliberations of the Special Committee, Nazeema Ahamed, Director General of the OR, highlighted the key issues faced by the Refugees that includes delays in obtaining citizenship, delays in obtaining birth and marriage certificates, penalty imposed on repatriation, restitution of land rights and inadequate job opportunities for graduates (children of refugee parents) holding foreign degrees and issues with accrediting qualifications obtained from Indian institutes.

The Committee, on a positive note, has agreed to devise a simplified mechanism wherever possible to expedite the process and provide assistance in obtaining Sri Lankan citizenship, so that they can obtain National Identity Cards and access other services.

Organising a mobile camp in October in the Northern Province with the participation of relevant stakeholders to provide documental support is a key decision taken during the meeting.

Also, the committee decided to accept documents at District Secretariat level in relation to obtaining citizenship, which is currently being handled by the Colombo Head Office

Furthermore, it was decided to revisit the checklist of documents that are to be produced to obtain citizenship, since the refugees are finding it difficult to submit some of these documents and to waive off / reducing the penalty payments for delays in obtaining the certificates

Separate meetings will be held with relevant stakeholders to address the issue with the recognition / accreditation of professional and educational qualifications acquired from some Indian institutions.

The Committee will meet regularly to discuss the progress on the agreed action with regard to the returnees already living in Sri Lanka and to facilitate the process of repatriation of refugees scheduled to arrive in Sri Lanka in the future.