Refugee Council report shows Sri Lanka still unsafe for returning refugees - Refugee Council
September 18, 2003

Refugee Council report shows Sri Lanka still unsafe for returning refugees

The Refugee Council today announces the publication of Sri Lanka: Internally displaced persons and safe returns, a report examining the current conditions facing internally displaced persons and refugees due to ethnic conflict and war in Sri Lanka. The report reveals the stark reality of the continuing human rights violations occurring in war-torn areas and raises serious questions about the inclusion of Sri Lanka in the government’s White List.

Continuing human rights violations are preventing the return home of refugees from abroad and displaced people who have fled to other parts of Sri Lanka. Following the signing of the ceasefire agreement, large-scale killings and destruction have largely stopped. However, killings, abduction, harassment, recruitment of children to military factions, illegal taxing, extortion and other forms of human rights violations have continued. These violations are widespread, particularly in the Northeast where displaced people have returned.

Ethnic violence has also erupted in the Eastern province since the ceasefire, resulting in the displacement of nearly 40,000 people, and tensions remain high.

The UK government’s present policy is to declare all applications for asylum from Sri Lankan nationals ‘manifestly unfounded’ and Sri Lanka has been included in the Government’s ‘White List’ of so-called safe countries. This means, as well as having a much slimmer chance of a successful asylum claim, Sri Lankan asylum seekers have no right of appeal against negative asylum decisions while they remain in the UK.

Anna Reisenberger, Director of Development at the Refugee Council said:

“It is evident that Sri Lanka remains volatile and unsettled. Continuing violence, ethnic tensions and human rights violations outlined in this report demonstrate that Sri Lankan asylum seekers may still have protection needs that are not being recognised by UK asylum policy. Requiring Sri Lankans to return before they are able to appeal against their asylum decision carries a serious risk of increasing tensions in the areas of return, and destabilising the already fragile situation.

“Sri Lanka is clearly in a state of transition and while real progress has been made towards peace, the safety of its people, particularly in some areas, cannot be guaranteed. We urge the Government to consider the contents of this report. Returns to Sri Lanka should be carried out on a purely voluntary basis and be carefully managed and supported. Sri Lanka should be removed from the White List and applications from Sri Lankan nationals should be considered individually and on their merits with a right of appeal within the UK.

“If the Government wishes to see a reduction in the number of applications for asylum in the UK and a successfully functioning returns policy it must address the root causes of why people flee their homes. Greater involvement by the UK government in helping to facilitate peace negotiations and monitor the ceasefire would demonstrate a genuine commitment to resolving one of the many crises that cause people to leave their homes and seek sanctuary in Britain.”