A group of Tamil asylum seekers who were meant to have been deported back to Sri Lanka this afternoon have been given a last minute reprieve after lawyers managed to persuade a court that they were at a credible risk of torture should they be returned.
The Independent profiled the plight of the refugees who were part of a 100-strong group of Sri Lankans scheduled to be deported on flight PVT030 at 15.30 today from an undisclosed London airport. Although many of those on board the flight had either overstayed their visas or were convicted criminals, there were a significant number of ethnic Tamils who had lodged asylum applications and feared that they would be targeted by the Sri Lankan authorities.
A thirty year civil war between the Sri Lankan government and Tamil Tiger separatists ended two years ago but human rights groups say torture, kidnappings and extra-judicial killings are still commonplace, partiucalrly in heavily militarised north of the islands where Tamils are the majority.
The last minute injunction halting the deportation of some of the passengers was obtained by lawyers partially based on evidence from Human Rights Watch which has exposed how at least 13 Tamils who were deported from European nations since the end of Sri Lanka’s civil war have been tortured on their arrival. Three were deported from Britain including a woman who was raped on her return. They have since been granted asylum in Britain after escaping for a second time with the courts accepting their evidence that they had been tortured.
Freedom from Torture, which campaigns on behalf of victims and has played a key role in commissioning independent medical reports to assess torture, said last night that at least seven Tamils had been given last minute reprieves following a frantic day in court. Tamil activists, meanwhile, suggested as many as twenty people may have been taken off the flight before it took off.
A Home Office spokesperson refused to comment, saying their policy was to only make statements once a deportation flight had landed at its final destination. The government insists that anyone who is deported is individually assessed to make sure that they are not at risk of torture. However human rights groups say the growing evidence of tortured deportees throws those assurances into doubt.