Every year, UNHCR helps hundreds of Sri Lankan refugees to voluntarily return home. This information and preparation guide is intended to provide the necessary basic information that would allow you to make an informed decision.
If you are a Sri Lankan refugee living in Tamil Nadu and thinking about returning to Sri Lanka, UNHCR can assist you with counselling and advice; meeting the international travel, exit and entry requirements; obtaining necessary documentation; a reintegration grant and post return support. For more information, contact UNHCR.
There are a number of important things to do before and after you arrive in Sri Lanka. Every refugee returnee will encounter different situations, thus the information provided is only an indication of what you may need to do at different stages.
Make the decision: Do you want to go back home?
If you are considering returning home, it is important to remember the decision to return is yours. During the time that you’ve been away, the situation in Sri Lanka has also changed. Try to find out as much information as possible by:
- Contacting your family members and friends where you intend to return in Sri Lanka by telephone, letter or email and ask what the current conditions are in your intended place of return.
- Speaking to UNHCR officials in India. UNHCR staff will be able to discuss your options and help you understand what type of assistance you may be able to receive.
Applying for repatriation
A. For Camp Refugees:
Please submit a written application with the following information:
- Name and age of the family members wanting to repatriate
- Address and phone number of the place of return in Sri Lanka
- Phone number of the applicant
- The following supporting documents should be attached to the application: copies of the refugee family ID card, certificates of birth, death and marriage documents issued by the relevant authorities in Tamil Nadu; and if available, copies of the SL emergency travel document (ETD) and exit permit (EP).
B. For those staying outside camps:
If you do not have camp registration or if your camp registration has been removed or if you have chosen to live outside the camp and intend to return to Sri Lanka, you would be levied visa fees and an overstay penalty from the day you have been living without registration.
The Government of India has implemented a procedure to waive the visa fees and overstay penalty for refugees who opt to voluntarily return to Sri Lanka. The overstay penalty waiver consideration is available on a case to case basis for Sri Lankan nationals who arrived in India prior to 9th January 2015. The application can be sent via post or handed in person at:
Commissionerate of Rehabilitation
4th Floor, Ezhilagam Annex Building,
Chepauk, Chennai 600005
Phone : 044 28515288
While submitting application to The Commissionerate of Rehabilitation, Chennai
- Send a written application mentioning names and ages of all individuals intending to return
- Provide the date of arrival of all members of the family
- Provide the date of birth of children born in India
- Provide your phone number and complete residential address
- The following supporting documents should be attached to the application: copies of latest police registration copies for all family members, certificates of birth, death and marriage documents issued by the relevant authorities in Tamil Nadu; copies of the SL emergency travel document (ETD), copies of passport used on arrival and copy of the visa page
Voluntariness verification interviews
For return, verification interviews are held by UNHCR staff in the districts and the Commissionerate of Rehabilitation in Chennai. Refugees have to be present at the interview with all their family members who intend to return.
The following documents/ photos should be presented by refugees for verification to UNHCR staff at the time of interview:
- Refugee family ID card issued by the Government of Tamil Nadu or copy of the order of overstay penalty waiver for non-camp refugees
- One way travel document issued by the Sri Lankan Deputy High Commission in Chennai, if available
- Marriage registration certificates, if available
- Indian birth certificate of refugee children born in India
- Sri Lankan birth certificate of refugee children born in India, if available
- Address and phone number of the relative in Sri Lanka to whom the refugee family is returning
- 2 passport size colour photos of each repatriating refugee
- Exit permit issued by the Collector, if available (original and a copy) or deficiency letter provided by FRRO
Applying for Emergency Travel Document
Refugees who do not have a Sri Lankan passport can repatriate with a one-way emergency travel document (ETD) issued by the Sri Lanka Deputy High Commission (SLDHC) Office in Chennai.
Refugees applying for ETD have to come in person to the SLDHC Office in Chennai with all family members who intend to repatriate.
The Sri Lanka Deputy High Commission is located at:
No 56, Sterling Road,
Near Loyola College,
Tamil Nadu 600034,
Phone: 044 2824 1896
The ETD is valid for one year. They can be renewed for another 6 months. UNHCR assists refugees with the renewal.
Refugees living within and outside camps are required to obtain an exit permit from the Government of India before departure. A copy of the exit permit is a mandatory document that is to be produced at immigration at the airport of departure. The procedure to obtain an exit permit is detailed below:
Initiating the exit process at the district level for camp refugees
After obtaining the ETD – one-way emergency travel document, refugees living in camps should submit an application to the district collector’s office for an exit authorization. Processing of this application involves security clearance procedures at different levels and hence the application should be made well in advance. Refugees are advised to submit the application for an exit authorization as soon as they obtain the ETDs.
Immediately after obtaining the authorization from the district collector, a copy of the document should be sent to UNHCR indicating the date the refugee wants to repatriate.
Final exit formalities for camp and non-camp refugees
On receipt of the overstay penalty waiver or the district collector’s exit proceedings, refugees should at the earliest apply for an exit permit via the Indian immigration’s web portal (https://indianfrro.gov.in/eservices/home.jsp). In case of any difficulties please contact UNHCR for assistance.
Preparation for Travel
On submission of the copy of the exit application submitted at the Indian immigration web portal along with the letter to UNHCR requesting tickets with an indication of the preferred month of travel, UNHCR will dispatch by post the tickets for travel to Colombo to the refugees.
UNHCR will conduct a pre-departure orientation session and handover required certificates of return and other voluntary return related documents. UNHCR will also handover or send through postal money order a sum of INR 750 per person as a local transportation allowance to reach the relevant airport of departure.
On arrival at Colombo Airport, Sri Lanka
- UNHCR Sri Lanka staff will meet and greet you at the airport in Colombo, before you pass the immigration counter, to make sure you have arrived safely.
- UNHCR staff will assist you to complete immigration formalities.
- Following completion of immigration formalities, UNHCR staff will assist you to complete security screening and necessary health screenings.
- Following the security and health screening, UNHCR staff will assist you to collect your luggage and navigate through the customs formalities at the airport.
- Following the completion of customs formalities, UNHCR staff will assist you to exit to the airport lobby where you will meet your relatives/friends/family members who are waiting to receive you.
- After reaching the airport lobby, UNHCR staff will escort the head of the family to the UNHCR office counter located adjoining the airport lobby in order to provide the reintegration assistance.
- Through the Bank of Ceylon, at the Airport;
- UNHCR will provide you with a cash transport grant of LKR 2,500 per person to help you get back to your home in a safe and dignified manner.
- UNHCR will provide you with a cash reintegration grant, each adult individual will receive LKR 10,000 and each minor will receive LKR 7,500.
- UNHCR will provide you with a cash grant of LKR 5,000 per individual family and LKR 10,000 per family to procure non-food items.
- UNHCR will also provide mobility aids such as a wheelchair, crutches or a walking aid for returnees who are in need.
- When you reach your town or village contact the closest UNHCR office to register for protection monitoring.
Back in the District of Return
- Register with the Grama Niladhari office of the Sri Lankan Government in your village. Take with you a copy of the Voluntary Repatriation Form and your emergency travel documents.
- Contact the closest UNHCR office to register for protection monitoring.
- Be in contact with the UNHCR Staff in your District of return. You can do this by:
- Taking your Voluntary Repatriation Form with you.
- Provide your contact details to UNHCR.
- Inform UNHCR of any special needs or concerns you or your family members may have.
- Attend the Mine Risk Education session.
- Talk to your local public health office about health screening.
- Inform UNHCR staff and the local authorities if you change your address.
Contact details of UNHCR in Sri Lanka
UNHCR Representation office, Colombo
97, Rosmead Place, Colombo 07
TP: +94 (0)11 268 3968/69
Fax: +94 (0) 11 268 3971
UNHCR Field office, Jaffna
386, Navalar Road, Nallur, Jaffna
TP: + 94 (0) 21 222 2005, 2215101
Fax: + 94 (0) 21 222 4534