It found that between January and May of 2009 2,635 people were reported as being “untraceable”. This is the figure that the Sri Lankan government agrees on, though rights organisations and other advocacy groups believe the number is even higher.
In Vavuniya, the district located at the southern-most corner of Sri Lanka’s former war theatre, SL government officials and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) set up a unit to trace missing children in 2010.
Piencia Charles, the top government official for the district, was instrumental in setting up the unit. She said she was motivated to do so after interacting with dozens of distraught women on a daily basis, all of them looking for their missing family members.
Though the unit was initially set up to look for missing children, it has received more cases on missing adults, which it passes on to other organisations.
The Vavuniya Family Tracing and Reunification Unit had received 2,564 applications by July 2011.
Of those, “1,888 were about missing adults, and 676 about missing children. According to the parents who made the tracing applications.
UNICEF officials in Colombo said that the Unit was handling 747 cases of missing children. So far, 40 had been reunited with their families, while another 30 cases have been ‘cleared’ for reunion with relatives. Officials said that 70 more cases were being processed.
However, the thousands of missing do not only represent those who fled during the last stages of the war. “The ICRC’s Annual Report for 2011 states the ICRC in Sri Lanka was handling 15,780 tracing (including missing) cases as at Dec. 31, 2011.
The ICRC added that it had received 1,382 new cases, including 369 cases involving minors, during 2011. Of the total figure, the humanitarian organisation has only been able to trace a mere 136 people, which paints a grim picture for the majority of anxious families desperately searching for their lost loved ones.