Sri Lankan citizens and civil society organisations have expressed alarm at the recent arrests and deportations of asylum seekers from Sri Lanka, pointing out they are in blatant violations of customary international law.
In a joint statement issued by over 80 signatories, it has been pointed out that the deportations are in breach of customary international law that requires all countries to abide by the principles of ‘non-refoulement (no forced returns ) to countries where people face imminent risks. It also points out the deportations are in violation of Article three of the Convention against Torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment, that has been ratified by the Sri Lankan government.
The signatories have pointed out that against a backdrop where it has been noted by the UNHCR that Ahmadiyya and Shia Muslims and Christians in Pakistan may need international protection and require particularly careful examination of their asylum claims, the claims made by the MInistry of External Affairs to justify the decision to deport the asylum seekers is unacceptable.
They point out the MEA is making unfounded claims to justify the decision to deport the asylum seekers claiming they have fallen victim to commercially driven human trafficking networks.
“The only way to find out who is genuinely fleeing persecution is a comprehensive case by case assessment by the nationally and internationally recognised agency for this – the UNHCR and not any Sri Lankan government agency,” the concerned civil society representatives have stated while pointing out the asylum seekers have been deprived of the right to this due process under international customary law.
They have furthermore asserted that although in practise the MEA claims they have been ‘encouraging the return of asylum seekers, in practise they have been forcibly deported as confirmed by the UNHCR that has confirmed that some of the latest deportees had thier passports and asylum seeker certificates seized last week and told to go to the Colombo airport where they were placed on flights to Pakistan against their will.
Moreover, it has been pointed out that the laws under which the arrests and detentions were made is not clear:
– the victims and their families have not been informed clear and specific reasons for their arrests
– no arrest receipts have been provided
– arrests have not been produced before a competent court and access to lawyers have been denied.
– those arrested being detained at Boossa detention facility run by the Terrorist Investigation Department (TID) indicates that the arrests have been made under the Prevention of Terrorism Act indications (if they were arrested under immigration laws, they should have been detained in the Immigration detention facility in Mirihana)
Concerns have also been expressed at the reports of the asylum seekers being subjected to torture, cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment that is in violation of Article 11 of the Sri Lankan constitution – rights that have been made available to all people in Sri Lanka irrespective of their nationality and immigration status.
Meanwhile, the group has also welcomed the interim order issued by the Appeal Courts on August 15 prohibiting deportations of all refugees and asylum seekers registered with the UNHCR until August 29th when the case will be taken up again.
They have also called upon the UNHCR to:
-monitor and report on the implementation of the above Court order and assist the Courts when the case is taken up in any way possible such as through expert input.
– take a more proactive role in responding to this crisis situation such as by opening a 24-hour emergency hotline in Sri Lanka and countries where asylum seekers have been deported.
– monitor the situation of those who have been deported
– initiate a fast track process to expedite the processing of pending asylum claims and appeals and identify and engage with potential countries that may offer fast track resettlement to those recognised as refugees.
“We call on the government to strictly adhere to the interim court order and refrain from intimidating and harassing the petitioner, asylum seekers and those assisting them,” the statement reads while calling upon the government to halt deportations and arrests of asylum seekers and adopt policies and practices that will offer them the protection and support that they deserve.
According to UN statistics some 108 Pakistanis have been deported as of August 14 and the UNHCR states the deportations included 11 women and eight children families have been separated including a pregnant woman who had been left behind after the husband was deported.
Read the full statement here