Britain is returning Tamil refugees to be tortured in Sri Lanka

Human rights groups detail evidence of failed asylum-seekers facing beatings and rape

Malar Rajendran is living proof that Britain has sent people to Sri Lanka to be tortured.

Today at 3:30pm, a specially chartered Border Agency flight using the call sign PVT030 will take off from an undisclosed London airport and head east towards Colombo. Those on board will include visa over-stayers, a handful of convicted criminals and dozens of terrified, predominantly Tamil refugees who fear they will be horrifically abused when they land.

The government maintains that it only ever returns people it knows will be safe from harm and that failed asylum seekers on board those flights will not be ill-treated. But Mrs Rajendran knows those assurances mean little once you land in Colombo. She first fled her homeland in 2001 after she was arrested and beaten following the death of her husband, a low ranking member of the Tamil Tigers.

She failed to persuade the asylum tribunal that her life was in danger and she was returned in early 2009, just as the brutal 30-year war between the Sri Lankan government and the Tamil Tigers came to its bloody conclusion.

Within minutes of touching down she had been detained.

"I was taken away at the airport and interrogated for 24 hours," Mrs Rajendran, a slight 49-year-old woman who speaks almost at a whisper, told The Independent. "Then I was taken to another place. They started ill-treating me there. I was kicked, punched, they stripped me. I was sexually assaulted and raped."

Her experience still clearly haunts her to this day and Mrs Rajendran is reluctant to go into details. She constantly fidgets and avoids looking men in the eye. A glance at her medical file explains why. Throughout her ordeal she was regularly beaten with an iron rod and she was raped multiple times by her guards. Her body bears testament to her abuse - her forearms and legs are littered with livid defence wounds whilst her chest area is covered in deep scratches that were left by her rapists.

What makes Mrs Rajendran's experience so damning is that she managed to escape to Britain once more where an asylum tribunal eventually accepted that she had been telling the truth and granted her refugee status. Only when she was tortured for a second time did we finally believe her.

If her case was a one-off it might be a tragic but excusable by-product of the inevitably flawed asylum system. Deciding who is at risk and who is lying in an inherently difficult thing to do. But the evidence coming out of Sri Lanka of the systemic abuse meted out towards predominantly Tamil returnees is so damning it should make the Coalition Government think twice. Instead, they have increased the frequency of deportation flights since the war's end.

Multiple human rights groups have documented cases where those returning to Sri Lanka have been severely tortured. Human Rights Watch has detailed 13 credible cases where failed Sri Lankan asylum seekers from Europe have been returned and tortured since the end of the civil war in 2009. Freedom from Torture, which specialises in compiling independent medical reports of torture victims, has uncovered a further 24 cases where voluntary returnees have been tortured and managed to escape once more to Britain. And these are just the ones we know about because the victim has managed to escape their abusers a second time. The problem is so endemic that medical experts at Freedom from Torture say the referral rate from Sri Lanka is the highest they have seen from any country since the group was founded in 1985.

And still the flights continue.

Lawyers for a number of forcible returnees are going to the High Court in a bid to try and get the flights stopped with a last minute injunction.

"The burden of proof falls squarely on the appellant to make their case and those seeking asylum are often poorly represented," explains Kulasegaram Geetharthanan, from Jein Solicitors in Lewisham. "You can have very good asylum claims that fall down because the representation wasn't good enough. You have to remember many of these people are traumatised, they don't speak good English and they have little spare cash."

The courts have previously expressed concern that the torture allegations are credible but only a seismic policy shift at the Home Office, which is under political pressure to increase expulsions, will make any real difference.

For those on board today's flights, misery and fear has set in. "It's almost like a funeral here," says Muralitharan Chinasamy, a 32-year-old failed asylum seeker who spoke to The Independent over the phone from Tinsley House, the removal centre next to Gatwick. "Everybody is crying, moaning and I am determined not to go back."

Mr Chinasamy claims his life would be in danger because he was a member of the Tamil Tiger's political and financial wings before he fled after he was arrested and tortured by a pro-government militia.

"I'm pretty sure not just me, many of us will be stopped at the airport or arrested soon afterwards," he said. "I beg the government to reconsider their decision and look into our cases again."

Mrs Rajendran can count herself lucky that, with her temporary papers, she is no longer at risk of being deported. But she remains deeply depressed about the future.

"I feel safe and it's true I'm given asylum," she says. "But it's too late. My life has been destroyed both physically and mentally. I have now been tortured two times. I'm not sure I will ever recover from this now or in the future."

Returning migrants: Deportation flights

Deportation flights have had a deeply chequered history over the past decade as successive governments become increasingly reliant on charter planes – usually run by private security companies – to return migrants to their home nations.

Iraq and Afghanistan are both popular places for charter planes during times of relative tranquillity whilst Pakistan, the Congo and East Africa have remained regular destinations for such flights. Prior to the final stages of the civil war in Sri Lanka, Britain was reluctant to deport too many Tamils. But since the end of official hostilities in 2009, charter deportations have restarted at a pace.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Tradewind Recruitment: KS2 Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: My client is a two form entry primary schoo...

Tradewind Recruitment: English Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: My client is an excellent, large partially ...

Tradewind Recruitment: Science Teacher

£90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: I am currently working in partnersh...

Tradewind Recruitment: Year 3 Primary Teacher

£100 - £150 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Year 3 Teacher Birmingham Jan 2015...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee