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Resettlement of internally displaced persons is affected by multiple factors

University of Gothenburg

Processes of resettling internally displaced persons are affected by a range of different factors that policymakers need to take into account. This is concluded in a newly completed PhD thesis from the University of Gothenburg on internal displacement and resettlement in Sri Lanka.

Shantha Wanninayake, author of the study, focuses on internally displaced persons who either self-settled in host communities or stayed in welfare centres during the cease-fire in Sri Lanka between 2002 and 2006. Data for the study was gathered mainly from extensive field research in the districts of Vavuniya and Anuradhapura.

Wanninayake explores how social, economic and security factors influence decisions on whether to return to the original community or to stay in the host community. He found that self-settled people brought new skills in agriculture to the host community that helped the community develop and made both hosts and settlers better off.

"These interactions also helped to build harmonious relationships between settlers and hosts. On the other hand, almost all individuals or families who lived in welfare centres depended on dry rations and other assistance extended to them for their survival," says Shanta Wanninayake.

"Even though a majority of them also worked and earned some money in the host community, the background and circumstances created by the aid agencies led to segregation between hosts and the displaced persons in the welfare centres," he continues.

The better security situation in host communities compared to the places from where people had fled was a strong incentive for displaced people to stay in the host community. But also in this aspect, Shantha Wanninayake found differences between self-settled people and people at welfare centres.

"The self-settled persons were welcomed by the hosts as they arrived, whereas people in the welfare centres, with no previous relationships with the host community, expressed doubts about security. Women and children in some welfare centres were even subjected to various forms of abuse and harassment," he says.

Concerning kinship and similar social relations, differences between self-settled people and displaced people at welfare centres were somewhat compensated by activities from officials and NGOs.

"Kinship relationships played a major role for internally displaced people to self-settle in a host community. When people started to live in the host community new relationships were also developed, which further attracted the displaced people to remain in the host area," says Wanninayake.

Displaced people who stayed in welfare centres, on the other hand, were provided services from both government and international organisations, which helped to increase the frequency of contacts between the displaced and hosts.

One conclusion that can be drawn from the study is that officials need to take multiple factors of why people want to stay or resettle into account when designing resettlement programs.

"Especially when resettling the Sinhalese, Tamil and Muslim groups in their original villages, the reintegration programs should include steps to achieve goodwill and rebuild trust, which can meaningfully build socio-economic cooperation between the groups," says Shantha Wanninayake.


Contact: Shantha Wanninayake, e-mail:

Thesis title: Making a 'Home': Internal Displacement and Resettlement Processes in Sri Lanka 2002-2006.

More about the thesis:

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