Refugees under UNHCR care top 728

There are 728 refugees in Sri Lanka now under the care of the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), Ports and Shipping Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe said.

The minister, addressing a press conference at the SLFP Headquarters in Colombo yesterday, said they belong to 10 countries, adding that the majority of them are Pakistani nationals.

Bringing out the statistics of refugees in Sri Lanka as at August 31, 2017, the minister said there are 533 Pakistani nationals, 113 Afghanistan nationals, 35 Myanmar nationals, 14 Syrian nationals, 10 Palestine nationals, 8 Maldives nationals, 7 Iranians, 6 Yemen nationals and one each from Somalia and Tunisia among them.

At the same time there are 605 asylum seekers in Sri Lanka pending the refugee status of the UNHCR. Among them are 504 Pakistani nationals and 77 Afghanistan nationals. He said the UNHCR has undertaken the responsibility to send them to a third country as soon as possible.

Asked by a journalist as to where these refugees are presently located, the minister said he was not aware. “I don’t know, but the Government must be aware. I will inquire and let you know,” the minister replied.

The minister said Sri Lanka is not a party to the 1951 UN Refugee Convention along with India, Pakistan and many other countries, and therefore not bound to keep refugees permanently.

“Despite that, we look at the humanitarian aspect of the issue and act in keeping with the international law. The Sri Lankan Government has signed a Status Agreement in 2005 with the UNHCR and according to it, the UNHCR is bound to send them to a third country as soon as possible,” he said.

He also said the Government acted responsibly during the recent agitation near the refugee shelter at Mount Lavinia that housed 31 Rohingya refugees, adding that the arrests made following the incident showed that the Government acts swiftly against the law breakers.

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