UN agency warns Sri Lankan refugees against fleeing to India

May 29, 2006 (AFP) – The United Nations agency for refugees warned Sri Lankans on Monday against fleeing troubled areas and making a “perilous journey” to neighbouring India. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said at least 10 people drowned while making a dangerous crossing in May of the Palk Straits, the narrow strip of sea that divides the two South Asian countries.

“The UNHCR is deeply concerned about the recent drowning of 10 Sri Lankan refugees travelling by boat to India,” the agency said in a statement.

It said women and children may also be subject to sexual abuse.

“Many refugees fleeing localized violence are being put at great risk by unscrupulous traffickers who operate unseaworthy and overcrowded vessels,” the agency said.

It said the drowning on May 19 was the latest in a series of incidents involving Sri Lankan refugees travelling to the Indian state of Tamil Nadu.

Some have been abandoned at sea while others have died when their vessels capsized.

“While everyone has an inalienable right to claim asylum, UNHCR urges those planning on making the perilous journey to Tamil Nadu, to carefully consider the serious danger