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Sri Lankan refugees offered aid to go home

The Swiss government is offering money to refugees from Sri Lanka who return home voluntarily or because their asylum request has been rejected. The Federal Refugee Office said it hopes the measure would increase the number of repatriations.

It also said the new measure was aimed at discouraging those without permission to stay in Switzerland from going underground and living in the country clandestinely.

"The main aim is to see fewer people disappear and have more people returning home regularly. About 200 people have returned to Sri Lanka each year since 1994, so we hope to increase this number," Urs von Arb, from the Federal Refugee Office, told swissinfo

Sri Lankans who decide to return home will receive SFr1,000 for every adult, and SFr500 per child.

"It is just an incentive, to help (returnees) to build something up and to live for the first three or four months in Sri Lanka when they go home," Von Arb said.

He said the refugee office's aid package, which takes effect on November 1 and runs until the end of 2001, will include other means of support. Returnees, for example, will get help to transfer to Sri Lanka their contributions to the Swiss state pension scheme or to company pension funds.

Returnees will also receive advice upon their entry in Sri Lanka. Switzerland hopes to open a welcome centre in the capital, Colombo, called "Red Cross Home", where they will be able to live temporarily.

"All in all we have around 30,000 people from Sri Lanka, mostly Tamils, in Switzerland," Von Arb told swissinfo. "The majority of them have a permit to stay in Switzerland, and while they are targeted as well, this is a programme just for voluntary return."

Since 1994, more than 13,000 Sri Lankans have arrived in Switzerland. While 1,166 have said they will return home, nearly 7,000 have disappeared without leaving any trace.

swissinfo

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