Sri Lanka IDP Figures Analysis

IDMC estimates that there were up to 73,700 IDPs in Sri Lanka as of July 2015.


They originate from the Northern and Eastern Provinces and live in the districts of Jaffna, Kilinochchi, Mullaitivu, Vavuniya, Mannar (Northern Province), Trincomalee, Batticaloa (Eastern Province), and Puttalam (North Western Province). Their protracted displacement is a result of the 26-year civil war between government forces and armed insurgent groups, most prominently the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), which ended in 2009 (IDMC, 1 July 2015, pp.3-4, 8).

Among them, 89 per cent, or up to 65,500 IDPs were living in host communities, the remainder in camps and about 550 in a relocation site (IDMC, 1 July 2015, pp.3-4, 8). The overwhelming majority belong to the Tamil and Muslim minorities. In addition, it is estimated that several tens of thousands among the more than 794,000 who are registered as having returned to their homes (Ministry of Resettlement, Reconstruction and Hindu Religious Affairs, 31 March 2015) have still not achieved a durable solution to their displacement.

Those still displaced in Jaffna, Puttalam and Mannar, who together make up two thirds of all current IDPs, have been displaced for 25 years or more. Most remained displaced for the whole period. Some in Puttalam and Mannar were able to return after the 2002 ceasefire, only to be displaced again in 2006 (Puttalam) or 2007 (Mannar). In Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu districts, the whole population was displaced during the last phase of the war (2008-2009). A large majority, 270,230 people (Ministry of Resettlement, Reconstruction and Hindu Religious Affairs, 31 March 2015), have since returned. Many had already experienced displacement during earlier phases of the conflict, as had IDPs and returnees in other areas of the north and east (IDMC, 1 July 2015, p.4).

IDMC is confident that the figure of up to 73,700 IDPs is the best estimate that can be obtained from available data. It is important to note, however, that some of the data dates back to 2013 (Jaffna) or even 2011 (Puttalam). It is therefore not known whether some of those counted as IDPs have achieved durable solutions through local integration or settlement elsewhere. Furthermore, the level of detail and comprehensiveness of available data differs between districts. Data on IDPs in Jaffna and Trincomalee is the most comprehensive and that on Vavuniya and Puttalam the least reliable. Hence IDMC uses the qualifier “up to”. In addition, it is not clear whether all individuals born in displacement since the data was first collected have been added after initial displacement or whether numbers of those who have died have been deducted. IDMC therefore strongly recommends that a comprehensive survey be conducted to determine the real scale of displacement (IDMC, 1 July 2015, p.4).

The new Sri Lankan government elected in January 2015 has opened some military-occupied areas in Jaffna and Trincomalee districts for return, and the release of additional such areas has been under discussion (Sunday Observer, 9 June 2015).

Disasters induced by rapid-onset natural hazards, mainly cyclones and floods, displace tens to hundreds of thousands of people each year. During the period from 2008 to 2013, a total of 2.17 million people were newly displaced as a result of disasters. The country thus ranked 11th worldwide in terms of absolute numbers, but fifth in relative terms, with 17,540 people displaced per million inhabitants (IDMC, 17 September 2014, pp.32-33).

IDMC uses only the most credible accurate information available. Notwithstanding the caveats and limitations of the source information described above, IDMC believes this to be the best data and is grateful to the partners for sharing it.