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Hundreds of refugees sent back to Sri Lanka to face torture

Returning Tamils would find themselves interrogated and tortured for information
  • @jerometaylor

The Government is planning to forcibly remove hundreds of Sri Lankan asylum seekers next week despite mounting evidence that many are tortured on their return.

The Independent has learnt that the Border and Immigration Agency has commissioned as many as three separate charter flights to remove more than 300 people next week. Removal directions have been sent out to a numerous evictees stating that two of the flights will take off on Wednesday, with a third planned for Thursday.

It is the first time the Government has pushed ahead with a mass removal to Sri Lanka since June, when more than 50 predominantly Tamil evictees were taken off the plane at the last minute after a senior judge accepted there was credible evidence they could be tortured on their return.

Over the past year there have been multiple examples of Sri Lankans who have been removed to Colombo, only to escape once again to Britain and have their asylum request accepted because compelling evidence of their torture has emerged.

Although some of those on the flight will be visa overstayers and convicted criminals, many are also failed asylum seekers from the country's Tamil minority who fear repercussions of returning to a nation with a dismal human rights record. Human Rights Watch has already compiled 13 instances in the past two years where Tamils removed from European nations – three of whom came from Britain – were subsequently tortured including reports of rape, beatings and victims being burnt with hot metal rods.

A new report seen by The Independent has uncovered a further 24 cases in which Sri Lankans who voluntarily returned to their homeland were interrogated and tortured. The data was compiled by Freedom from Torture, an organisation that specialises in providing independent medical assessments of torture claims for asylum tribunals.

In many of the cases the same torture methods were described, including beatings with cement-filled plastic piping, bars and wooden sticks as well as burnings with cigarettes and hot metal rods. Sexual assault and rape was also common.

Most of the victims were Tamil students who were forced to interrupt their studies to return home for family matters such as illness, marriage or death. On arrival they would find themselves interrogated and tortured for information over a perceived link to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), the Tamil nationalist insurgents who were finally defeated in 2009 after a 30-year civil war.

The LTTE – which was designated a terrorist movement by Britain – received funding and support from British Tamils, and although the organisation has effectively ceased to exist, the Sri Lankan government remains paranoid about Tamils abroad.

A spokesman for the UK Border Agency said the Government "only undertake returns to Sri Lanka when we are satisfied that the individual has no international protection needs." But that stance was seized upon by human rights groups.

"The research shows that the Sri Lankan authorities will stop at nothing to extract intelligence about the activities of the Tamil community in the UK," said the Freedom from Torture CEO, Keith Best. "Forcing Tamils back... in these circumstances is a highly risky affair."

David Mepham, director of Human Rights Watch UK, added: "Given the very serious risk of torture facing many Tamils returned from this country, the UK should immediately impose a moratorium on these returns."