High Court orders last-minute reprieve from deportation of Tamils from the UK

by zoejardiniere

01.03.13 The UK High Court has halted a deportation flight to Sri Lanka from the UK this week on the eve of the planned departure. Two senior judges, Mr Justice Wilkie and Judge Gleeson, rejected the government’s position that it was safe to return the asylum seekers whose claims had been rejected, and who are mostly Tamils, to Sri Lanka. A tribunal is currently examining and updating Country of Origin Information (COI) on Sri Lanka and, in the judges’ view, it would be inappropriate to carry out removals before it has reached its verdict. This unprecedented move means that no asylum seeker from Sri Lanka may be forcibly removed from the UK at present.

Several human rights organisations have criticised the UK policy of forced returns to Sri Lanka for a long time because of the risk of torture that they say exists for any Tamil and some other Sri Lankans, purely by virtue of their having claimed asylum in the UK. Freedom from Torture were behind the recent freedom of information request that revealed that 15 people have been granted refugee status in the UK after escaping torture in Sri Lanka where they were returned having had their initial claims rejected.

Keith Best, Chief Executive of Freedom from Torture, a Member of ECRE, responded to the news of the decision saying, “In the face of such overwhelming evidence, it is a sad indictment of our political masters that it has taken a court to impose the precautions that we have repeatedly called for.”

A report entitled ‘We will teach you a lesson’ published this week by Human Rights Watch (HRW) details the accounts of torture and rape suffered by Tamils in detention in Sri Lanka. David Mephan, the UK Director of HRW said that the report represents a “challenge” to the current UK policy of deportations to Sri Lanka.

The UK Border Agency (UKBA) insists that it examines every application for protection individually and a spokesperson said that they were “disappointed” by the decision to halt the deportation, which they intend to appeal.

For further information:

–         ECRE Weekly Bulletin, Evidence of risk of torture for Tamils returned to Sri Lanka mounts as more people are granted reprieve from deportation from UK, 26 October 2012

–         ECRE Weekly Bulletin, Human Rights Watch urges UK to halt deportations of Tamils to Sri Lanka, 2 March 2012