19 July, 2024


The Tamil Torture Case Has Exposed Britain’s Flawed Deportation Policy

By  –

Donna Covey

The horrifying testimony of Hari, a Tamil man tortured by Sri Lankan officials after the UK sent him back to his country, is one more shameful example of how this country currently treats people who seek safety here. Given the distressing description of Hari’s 17-day torture ordeal and the methods used, who can blame him for holding the UK government responsible for the scars on his back?

Evidence that shows it is unsafe to return people to Sri Lanka grows by the day. Just last week, the UK’s high court stopped the removal of 40 refused asylum seekers to Sri Lanka on the grounds that their human rights would be violated. Human Rights Watch have this year alone reported 13 cases of refused asylum seekers who have been tortured on return to the country, and have called for the UK to halt all returns. The charity Freedom From Torture has consistently raised this as a serious issue, with a “steady stream” of clients who have been recently tortured, including individuals who were forcibly removed to Sri Lanka from the UK.

The human cost of sending people back to Sri Lanka can no longer be ignored, and it’s clear the UK government should stop removals without delay. Yet the message does not seem to be getting through. The Home Office’s response to this appalling story – that it will continue to return people “who do not have a genuine need for our protection” – is simply unacceptable. By this it means it will not only continue to return people to Sri Lanka, but also to other countries where torture and human rights abuses are well documented, such as Afghanistan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Why can’t the government acknowledge the situation in these countries and halt returns, offering some form of protection to people who have been refused asylum until it is safe to go back?

Like many of the asylum seekers we see at the Refugee Council, Hari gave evidence to show he had been tortured and beaten in his own country, but he was still refused asylum. Every day we work with women who, despite surviving sexual violence in their own country, are refused asylum here. Of the women accessing our therapeutic services in 2010-11, more than 30% were from Sri Lanka, the vast majority had been tortured or raped, and just under half had been refused asylum in the UK.

The Home Office’s own statistics show that it is often very difficult for people seeking asylum here to get the protection they need. In 2011, out of 17,496 decisions made on asylum applications, 68% were refusals. Of those that appealed, 26% were overturned, showing that at least a quarter of people were given a wrong decision in the first instance. Refusal rates are also higher for women – in particular, 80-89% of women’s claims from Sri Lanka were rejected each year between 2006 and 2010. It is clear that too many people are being wrongly refused asylum in the first place.

While the UK Border Agency (UKBA) has made some steps in recent years to ensure the right decisions are made first time round, a number of flaws remain. In particular, a lack of access to good-quality legal representation throughout the asylum process means people are not supported to give all the information they need to back up their claim, and this is getting worse following recent cuts to legal aid. Vulnerable groups face particular problems in getting their claims recognised because the system is not set up for their specific needs: women, for example, who need to disclose traumatic and personal information to support their claims, often struggle to access female interviewers and interpreters. There is often a lack of awareness about the situation for women in their countries of origin. Many of our clients also cite being met with a culture of disbelief by immigration officials, which puts them at an immediate disadvantage.

As a result, the UKBA is failing to identify people who are at risk of torture, persecution or worse, on return to their own country, and are wrongly refusing people the protection they need. We want the UKBA to urgently develop policies and practices that reflect the reality of the situation in the country of origin for all asylum seekers, and to recognise that the situation in some countries is particularly dangerous for women.

On Friday, more than 100 refugees came together in Brixton to celebrate the protection offered to refugees over the last 60 years, as part of the jubilee celebrations. It was a moment to be proud of Britain. However, Hari’s story today reminds us that, if we want to maintain this proud tradition, we still have a long way to go.

The Guardian 

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Latest comments

  • 0

    madam donna thats untrue.

  • 0

    srilankan sinhalish pepoles are not crazy like tamil l.t.t.

  • 0

    British authorities know clearly more than this woman and, also what this propaganda boy displays as fresh torture is a far cry from the ground reality in Sri Lanka now. Of course we have to sympathise with him if ever he had to go through anything like this but the terrorists are no more.

  • 0

    I seriously don’t know where to begin. First of all, let me make it very clear that I am no supporter of any form of torture, or inhumane act, whether it be carried out by a Government (western or developing), ‘freedom fighters’, or ‘representatives of God’.

    But when will the worls start to look at the big picture? The big picture as to what sustains manipulation of innocent people, conflict, inequality and in general, so many injustices? Amongst a species that has the intelligence to cure cancer, get to the moon, and even develop philosophies and ideas (which we so grotesquely malpractice and manipulate) such as democracy and human rights, how can so many injustices and hypocrisies be possible?

    Well, I guess the answer is, intelligence alone isn’t enough, after all, it is intelligence that has given us nuclear weapons, and the necessary propaganda and justifications to justify violence and crimes against humanity that we so crassly do.

    Has anyone who writes so passionately for human rights ever written about ‘nipping in the bud’ what leads to situations such as terrorism and anti-terrorist terrorism, that fuel so many injustices in the world?

    How did the LTTE become a powerful and resourceful organisation (raising what some estimate as up to USD300,000,000 a year in funds) with bases in all parts of the world? The answer lies in irresponsible national, and international governments, which allowed their activities to go ‘unchecked’. While the LTTE abducted innocent Tamil children, and conducted acts of ethnic cleansing in the east of Sri Lanka, the world watched. While corrupt government, after corrupt government came and went in Sri Lanka, the world watched. While thousands of Sinhalese, and Tamil, and Muslim, and Christian, and ‘others’ died unnecessarily, the world watched. Of course there was the odd well timed ‘condemnation’. But in general, the world watched.

    Today, the international community is up in arms about the ‘atrocities’ in Sri Lanka. Where were these people 30 years ago? 20 Years ago? 10 Years ago? 5 Years ago? Up to 75,000 people had already died unnecessarily prior to the last battle that the international community estimates up to another 40,000 people to have died in. So where was this ‘international’ effort to resolve Sri Lanka’s voes prior to this final battle? Where were the international and ‘diaspora’ populations demanding the arrest and bringing to justice of LTTE leaderships for the crimes they carried out against innocent people? Why all the noise now? Is it because the LTTE leadership is no more, and there is only one side to pick on?

    The Sri Lankan government today, and their actions, is nothing but an inevitable product of the LTTE, just as much as the LTTE was an inevitable product of previous Sri Lankan and international governments. The actions of none of these groups, including those of the international communities, are justifiable. So when will we stop doing things wrong, and start doing this right? The ‘right’ solution requires a holistic approach. It requires moving away from hypocrisy, and self-interest, and starting to realise the true spirit of human rights, equality, and democracy. Until those in power get to such a stage, ‘compassionate’ writings about the fate of innocent Sri Lankans is a ‘farce’ conjured up for the gains of various parties with self-interests in a conflict within the peoples of Sri Lanka.

    How can we bring peace to Sri Lanka by enforcing sanctions on a population that is already vulnerable? How do we expect the ‘Sinhala’ in Sri Lanka to build ties with the ‘Tamils’, when they can so clearly see supporters of the LTTE waving flags so proudly throughout the world, an organisation that for decades tortured and took away their loved ones? And how do you expect the ‘Sinhala’ people to feel when these Tiger supporters gain international support and make lives even more difficult in Sri Lanka?

    What the short-sighted behaviour of the international community, and the carefully calculated activities of the Tamil diaspora, who for decades raised the LTTE funds, is doing is exactly what the Sri Lankan government wants. They are giving the Sri Lankan government the material they need to dress the international community, and together with it the principles of human rights and democracy, up as satanic international forces. Where does that loeave those of us trying to encourage human rights and equality in Sri Lanka? The Tamil diaspora are willingly making the government of Sri Lanka more powerful, and in doing so, they are maintaining the conflict and instability of Sri Lanka from which they have prfited so much. Who wants peace, when war is so lucrative, and they can live far away from the battle grounds?

    How can the international community not see that their activities are only making matters worse, for both the Sinhalese, and Tamils, in Sri Lanka? Anyone who truly wants to resolve the problems faced by Sri Lankan people, need to know that they must address our problems at the source.

    The source at present is the vested interest in conflict in Sri Lanka. Part of the source is also the ignorance and ‘nationalistic bigotry’ amongst the majority population in Sri Lanka, however after 30 years of war, I believe there has been a natural shift for the better in this area. The key therefore is to encourage and grow this more, not introduce new reasons for division, which the acts of the current international community and local governments is achieving. Also at the source is what made the LTTE so powerful, and able to raise so much funds internationally, while so openly carrying out atrocities such as suicide bombings, child abductions and ethnic cleansing. At the source is also the question how people who so openly support such an organisation, are capable of so easily twisting the arm of the international community to now make more noise than it ever did before, while proudly wearing and waving LTTE symbols and flags which consist of an image of a ferocious Tiger and Guns (doesn’t seem an image of justice or peace to me).

    Various Sri Lankans, of all ethnicities,have in the past pleaded with the international community to put an end to LTTE activities, and not got even a fraction of the attention these open supporters of what is an internationally recognised terrorist organisation is getting. How can that be?

    To achieve peace in Sri Lanka, someone needs to address the vested interest in conflict in Sri Lanka. Given the sheer number of Tiger ‘voters’ living in international ‘democratic’ societies, I don’t think there will ever be any real interest at government levels internationally to ‘nip the problem in the bud’. Who can help Sri Lanka now? What we need is to stop being judged on the actions and words of our irresponsible leaders and selfish diaspora populations. What we need is for the international communities to give us a break! We don’t want ‘justice’ from the international community, for justice must come from us, as only that will allow true repentance, forgiveness and reconciliation. Of course that will take time, because we are still down, and without freedoms. But like in the middle east, our people will too one day say ‘enough’ to all those who oppress us and take advantage of our vulnerabilities. But to reach that state, we need some help, and we need to understand the importance of unity. To unite, we need the international noise to stop defining us as divided. We are not divided. We want peace. We want freedoms. We want rights. But we are week. So help us, or at the least, stop kicking us even more when we are down.

  • 0

    Donna says ” … Refusal rates are also higher for women – in particular, 80-89% of women’s claims from Sri Lanka were rejected each year between 2006 and 2010. It is clear that too many people are being wrongly refused asylum in the first place … “
    I thought that the UK’s system of governance is transparent, just and humane … Donna says “… Too many wrongly being refused asylum ..”
    Is this a case of gullible Donna was taken for a ride and UKBA is completely wrong or other way around? ‘Bad boy’ SL would not listen and it’s a waste of time to pursue from that end according to many champions of human rights. But, citizens like Donna in democratic/humane/just/human right champion countries like UK should pursue bit seriously from their end. I see lot of cries regarding these asylum issues but agencies like UKBA are deporting these people left and right … Maybe that they know better about the intentions of the abuse claims of the refugees better?

  • 0

    why do you think the failed Tamil asylum seeker could not get back to Britain the country that deported him quick enough?
    this man prepared to travel through European safe countries where he could have claimed asylum only wanted to get to wonderful Britain that had previously sent him back home, give us a break?

  • 0

    Off course there are Tortures Kidnapping & Abductions in SriLanka by this Brutal regime.

    Only their puppets ,henchmen s ,Cohorts have freedom.

  • 0

    If the writer refers to the pix of the man with arms folded as torture,I would be skeptical of this pix specifically as marks on body are nicely spaced out,even neat.

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