Providing identification papers in Sri Lanka

Sep 18, 2009

On 18 May 2009 the Sri Lankan Government formally announced its military victory over the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and its regaining of complete territorial control over Sri Lanka. The final weeks of the conflict resulted in an estimated 200,000 people fleeing the fighting. More than 300,000 people are now displaced, mostly concentrated in the North-Central Vavuniya District, where new internally displace camps have been established.

As part of its Equal Access to Justice Project, UNDP has taken the lead on providing basic legal documentation to internally displaced populations. For example, many refugees lack identification cards, which not only facilitate movement between camps but also contribute to family reunification. In the district of Batticaloa, however, beneficiaries have faced more than the usual challenges.

“This district was severely affected by the conflict as well as the tsunami so there were a number of displacements,” said V. T. Yogarajah, head of UNDP’s office in Batticaloa. “Most of the families affected by the conflict and the tsunami lost all their documents, including birth certificates, identity cards, marriage certificates and other daily documents.”

For several years now, UNDP has been dispatching mobile documentation clinics to communities that have been heavily affected by conflict and displacement. Since the government offices tasked with issuing these documents are located in town centres, they are difficult and expensive to travel to for many people, especially when the process often requires half a dozen trips to as many different offices. The clinics offer a one-stop solution where people can often show up with nothing and, after a day within the clinic, come out with the land deeds, the birth certificates and the other documents crucial to the rehabilitation of their families, lives and livelihoods.

Perhaps as importantly, UNDP is working with local government offices to help streamline this process so that once the mobile clinics close up and move on, people will still have access to a process that works both for them and with them.

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