Special report: Tamil asylum-seekers to be forcibly deported

As our royals welcome Sri Lanka's President to the Jubilee pageant, dozens of Tamils are to be deported from Britain despite threats of torture

Dozens of Tamil asylum-seekers will be forcibly removed from Britain on a secretive deportation flight today despite credible evidence that they face arrest and retribution on their return.

A chartered plane, PTV030, is due to take off at 15.30 from an undisclosed London airport and fly direct to Colombo. Human-rights organisations have called on the UK Border Agency to halt the flight on the grounds that Tamils who are known to be critical of the Sri Lankan government have been brutally treated following their return.

The forced removals come as Mahinda Rajapaksa, who was the architect of Sri Lanka's final victorious push three years ago against the Tamil Tigers – a military offensive which defeated the brutal insurgency group but also led to the deaths of tens of thousands of civilians – flies into the UK to join the Queen's Diamond Jubilee celebrations.

Human Rights Watch has documented 13 credible cases over the past two years in which failed Tamil asylum-seekers from Europe have been tortured after landing in Sri Lanka, and warns that those cases are likely to be "just the tip of the iceberg".

Mr Rajapaksa's government has been accused of committing war crimes during the military offensive and of continuing to preside over a culture of impunity in which kidnap, extra-judicial killings and torture are still commonplace, particularly in the heavily militarised Tamil areas in the north.

The Foreign Office's latest report on human rights describes Sri Lanka as an area of "serious concern" when it came to abuses. But that has not stopped the UK Border Agency, which is under political pressure from the Government to ramp up deportations, from forcibly removing hundreds of Tamils in recent months.

The agency is notoriously secretive when it comes to forcible removals, rarely announcing them until the very last minute and providing few details about who is on board.

There have been at least four chartered planes in the last six months delivering Tamils back to Sri Lanka.

Some of those on board today's flight include people who have overstayed their visa and immigrants who have been convicted of a criminal offence. But it also contains dozens of ethnic Tamils who have had asylum bids turned down and are at risk of political persecution.

The Independent yesterday spoke to one Tamil man in his mid-twenties who is currently being held in Yarl's Wood detention centre and is due to be on today's flight. He said there were six people on his wing who were failed asylum-seekers who thought they would be at risk of torture or worse if they were returned. "Everybody is crying," he said. "We all know about cases where people have been tortured or killed after they were returned. Why is the UK government doing this?"

The man, who requested his identity remain anonymous for fear of reprisals if he is removed, said he travelled from Jaffna to Britain in 2006 to escape the violence that had plagued northern Sri Lanka for three decades. He added that both he and some of his fellow deportees played prominent roles in recent protests in London against the Sri Lankan government.

"Whenever there were demonstrations the Sri Lankans would send people down to photograph the protesters," he said. "They know exactly who we are. That's what scares us."

The UK Government insists that those who are forcibly removed are individually assessed to make sure that they are not at risk of torture on their return. But Human Rights Watch says they have at least three cases of Tamils who had been forcibly removed from the UK and subsequently tortured.

"There are likely to be many more cases, because these are the people who have managed to find their way from Sri Lanka to the UK, and that we have managed to interview," said David Mepham, director of HRW UK.

"The UK should suspend the forcible removal of Tamil asylum-seekers pending a review of its processes for assessing asylum claims by Tamils."

A UK Border Agency spokesman said: "The UK has a proud record of offering sanctuary to those who need it, but people who do not have a genuine need for our protection must return to their home country.

"We only undertake returns to Sri Lanka when we are satisfied that the individual has no international protection needs. The European Court of Human Rights has ruled not all Tamil asylum-seekers require protection."

Tamil returnees are raped, whipped and burned

Suthan knows all too well how hollow assurances that Tamils deported back to Sri Lanka are safe can be. He first fled to the UK five years ago after the Sri Lankan Terrorist Investigations Department accused him of having links to the Tamil Tigers.

During his asylum application he presented medical evidence showing that he had been beaten with sticks and burned with cigarettes but his request was turned down.

Last year he was placed on a chartered flight and returned to Colombo. He was questioned on his arrival at the airport in the presence of an official from the British High Commission and was later released.

But the interrogations continued. After trying to return home he was picked up by security officials and claims he was tortured, including being whipped with electric flex, burned with cigarettes and having his head immersed in a bag filled with petrol.

After paying a bribe he escaped to the UK again and is now represented by Freedom from Torture, which has used medical evidence to document numerous instances of deportees being brutalised on their return to Sri Lanka.

"This situation has gone on long enough," says Keith Best, Freedom from Torture's chief executive. "Forcible returns of refused Tamil asylum-seekers must be halted until the UK Government is sure that they will not be delivering people into the hands of their torturers."

Even the asylum panels have recognised that torture continues despite the end of Sri Lanka's civil war. In late 2010 the Immigration and Asylum Chamber accepted that a Tamil woman who had been returned to Sri Lanka by the UK authorities was tortured and raped. A second 33-year-old man was also granted asylum last year after a tribunal accepted that he had been beaten and burned with hot metal sticks after his return.

Nonetheless the British Government has stepped up deportations.

Jerome Taylor

Suthan's name has been changed to protect his identity

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
musicBand's first new record for 20 years has some tough acts to follow
Shoppers in Covent Garden, London, celebrate after they were the first to buy the iPhone 6, released yesterday
Liam Payne has attacked the media for reporting his tweet of support to Willie Robertson and the subsequent backlash from fans
peopleBut One Direction star insists he is not homophobic
Life and Style
healthFor Pure-O OCD sufferers this is a reality they live in
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey
tvSeries 5 opening episode attracts lowest ratings since drama began
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Nursery Assistant

Negotiable: Randstad Education Group: Nursery Assistants RequiredNursery Assis...

Supply Teachers needed in Bolton!

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Randstad Education Manchester Secondary: Are you a ...

English Teacher

£120 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Luton: ENGLISH TEACHER REQUIREDWe are ...

Trainee / Experienced Recruitment Consultants

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £40,000: SThree: SThree are a global FTSE 250 ...

Day In a Page

A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments