A study is comparing the experiences of internally displaced populations in Sri Lanka and India. How are they rebuilding their lives and what can governments do to promote security and protect livelihoods?

Image: Colombo, Sri Lanka

Ethnic conflict, natural disaster and changes in land ownership are just some of the factors behind large, involuntary population shifts that have changed the face of many Asian cities. In Sri Lanka, for example, nearly 100,000 people remain internally displaced after decades of conflict. Close to half a million more have returned to their former homes but face enormous challenges in meeting their basic needs.

In urban areas, which receive most migrants today, the influx puts great stress on the existing social fabric and can fuel tensions as newcomers and returnees seek jobs, shelter and social services. Governments and humanitarian organizations charged with responding to these challenges struggle to create effective programs and policies. A lack of solid data on the interactions between poverty, violence and displacement is hampering their efforts.

To better understand these dynamics, researchers from Sri Lanka’s International Centre for Ethnic Studies and India’s Centre for Development Studies are comparing the experience of resettled populations in three cities: Cochin, Colombo and Jaffna. Their efforts are part of a global research program supported by Canada’s International Development Research Centre and the UK’s Department for International Development, which aims to identify what works — and what doesn’t — to reduce violence in urban centres.

The study focuses on urban populations that have been uprooted by conflict or development pressures and on the communities that now host these displaced people. Researchers are mapping the types of violence experienced by internally displaced city dwellers and identifying how this strife affects livelihoods. They are looking at how resettled people are rebuilding their lives and the impacts of the newcomers on their neighbours. They are also examining how governments and other agencies promote security and protect the livelihoods of the urban displaced.

By comparing communities in post-conflict Sri Lanka with the relative stability of Cochin in the Indian state of Kerala, researchershope to pinpoint lessons on how the causes of violence in urban environments differ between post-war and more stable societies. The project is expected to produce a rich body of comparative data that will inform and support more peaceful resettlement processes.



For further information contact:

Isabelle Bourgeault-Tassé
International Development Research Centre, Canada
Email: ibourgeault-tasse@idrc.ca