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Displacement and resettlement: Lessons from Colombo


What happens when entire communities are uprooted by conflict or development? And how can planners shape the transition so that residents hold on to their livelihoods, social ties, and sense of security?

This case study presents a microcosm of dislocation, focusing on the Sinhapura government housing complex in the outskirts of post-war Colombo, Sri Lanka. In recent years, Sinhapura has become home to two waves of residents forcibly displaced by development. In comparing the experiences of these two groups – one from a nearby slum and the other from a more affluent area farther away – researchers observed significant differences in how residents adapted to their new environment. Phase 1 residents, who were forcibly evicted and witnessed the partial demolition of their homes, are generally more satisfied than those resettled in Phase 2. The second wave of displaced residents endured less direct violence but were misled by politicians and officials. They now find themselves in what they see as a different culture and a less safe environment. Findings underline how residents’ expectations, their prior living standards, and their treatment by state authorities can affect their ability to resettle successfully as much as the objective quality of their new surroundings.

This community profile, published in 2016, was part of a three-year study led by the International Centre for Ethnic Studies. It followed an initial survey of over 800 relocated households in Colombo.

Read the case study “Experiences of a relocated community in Colombo.”

Explore the IDRC-supported project, Involuntary resettlement: A cross-country study on urban inequality and poverty.

Learn more about IDRC’s research support to make cities safer through the Safe and Inclusive Cities partnership with the UK’s Department for International Development.