Safety of Tamils not kept in mind before deporting them to Sri Lanka

As many as 50 failed applicants to be deported

29th September 2011: The government has accepted that it is doing nothing to ascertain what is happening to scores of Tamils who are being forcibly removed from the UK, despite concerns for their safety in Sri Lanka.
A flight chartered by the UK Border Agency was due to leave on Wednesday with up to 50 failed asylum applicants on board. This was 24 hours after several human rights groups warned that they could face arrest without trial, torture or even death.

According to the Guardian, as lawyers for some of the individuals lodged last-minute appeals, the agency claimed that arrangements to watch the interests of the deportees had been sub-contracted to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), an inter-governmental body.

When the IOM denied this, the agency agreed that the only step, being taken to make sure the safety of Tamils, being forcibly removed from the UK to Sri Lanka was to give them the telephone number and address of the British high commission in Colombo.

Britain is being advised to put on hold the plans to extradite a planeload of Tamils to Sri Lanka. Up to 50 failed asylum seekers were due to be forcibly removed from the country aboard an aircraft chartered by the UK Border Agency.

The plan alarmed a number of NGOs, including a medical charity that treats victims of torture, which feared the British government could not be sure that those deported will be safe in Sri Lanka.

Freedom from Torture, formerly known as the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture, said it received 199 referrals for clinical assistance for Sri Lankans last year and a similar number this year. It said it had clinical evidence that a number of these people have been tortured in Sri Lanka since the end of the civil war in May 2009, some after being returned to the country.

The NGOs warned there was credible evidence that torture was still taking place and anyone suspected of being linked to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), or Tamil Tigers, was particularly at risk.

 In its latest report on the risks faced by Tamils imprisoned by the government, the Border Agency says it has trusted in part on an assurance that the UK high commission in Colombo obtained from senior intelligence officials.

The report quotes an official at the mission as saying last May: "I asked the senior government intelligence officials if there was any truth in allegations that the Sri Lankan authorities were torturing suspects. They denied this was the case and added that many Sri Lankans who had claimed asylum abroad had inflicted wounds on themselves in order to create scars to support their stories.”

In a letter to Keith Best, head of Freedom from Torture, one of the NGOs expressing concern about the deportations, Rob Whiteman, chief executive of the UK Border Agency, said: "Individuals are provided with the contact details of the high commission in Colombo and may contact them if they require any assistance."

Best had asked Damian Green, the immigration minister, to explain whether any arrangements were in place to observe the safety of deportees.

The Foreign Office considers that the humanitarian and security situation has improved for both Tamils and the majority Sinhalese population since civil war ended in May 2009.

However, Freedom from Torture, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International are all expressing concern about the safety of Tamils forced to return, saying there is proof that they are continuing to suffer severe mistreatment or being "disappeared".

There is also concern among human rights groups and immigration lawyers that the Border Agency is taking decisions on the basis of guarantee given by Sri Lankan intelligence officers – the very people accused of perpetrating many of the alleged abuses.

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