UK not monitoring safety of Tamils deported to Sri Lanka

Ian Cobain, in The Guardian, 28 September 2011

 Tamils at an IDP Camp — Pic by Eranga Jayawardena for AP [see end for Web Editor comment… and additional note]

The government has conceded that it is doing almost nothing to establish 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 depart on Wednesday with up to 50 failed asylum applicants on board, 24 hours after several human rights groups warned that they could face detention without trial, torture or even death.

As lawyers for some of the individuals lodged last-minute appeals, the Home Office claimed that arrangements to monitor the welfare of the deportees had been sub-contracted to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), an inter-governmental body. “They do it on our behalf,” a spokesman said. When the IOM denied this, the Border Agency conceded that the only measure being taken to ensure the safety of Tamils who are forcibly removed from the UK to Sri Lanka is to give them the telephone number and address of the British High Commission in Colombo.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 monitor the safety of deportees.

The Foreign Office believes 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 evidence that they are continuing to suffer severe mistreatment or are being “disappeared”.

There is also concern among human rights groups and immigration lawyers that the Border Agency is taking decisions on the basis of assurances given by Sri Lankan intelligence officers – the very people accused of perpetrating many of the alleged abuses. In its latest report on the risks faced by Tamils imprisoned by the government, the Border Agency says it has relied 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.”

A number of Tamils who had been taken into detention in recent weeks after the failure of their asylum applications were told at the last moment on Wednesday that they would not be put on the flight due to depart that afternoon, as had been planned. After several hours of protracted legal wrangles, which saw several Tamils taken off the aircraft and returned to detention centres, the flight left from Stansted airport in Essex at around 8pm, five hours later than planned.

Web Editor:The photograph that is conjoined with the article, a Guardian selection, may conceivably be metaphoric. But it is likely that many British and other readers will think that this image descibes conditions prevailing in the IDP camps NOW in 2011. The fact remains that (a)  from1 December 2009 all inmates in the camps could leave on a chit system and return if they so wished; and (b) as of early-mid 2011 there are only about 7,000 persons remaining at the Menik Farm camps [the main location] — some who wish to remain in the locality because of interests secured therein and the others awaiting the final clearing of mines in their original village localities. The use and misuse of photographic imagery is a topic I plan to address in the near future. But for a range of photographs pertinent to both the Tamil refugee circumstances and the war that preceded this situation, see and especially for Brief Visit to IDP Camps at Menik Farm in June 2010

Further News from Daily News, 30 Sept. 2011:

“A group of 50 Sri Lankans who were deported from UK arrived in the country yesterday from the Bandaranaike International Airport. They arrived in the country with tight security provided by over 100 security personnel. The group comprised 42 men and 8 women and consisted of 24 Tamils, 11 Sinhalese and 12 Muslims.They were residents of Trincomalee, Vavuniya, Rathnapura and Kandy.” — Item by Suraj Bandara and Kumarasiri Prasad

Comparative figures from Australia for the  period January 2009-September 2010, (eleven quarters) were: 72 Sinhalese, 8 Tamils and 6 Muslims … (data supplied by Senaka Walgampaya, High Commissioner in Canberra in 2010)

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