New Refugee Council report warns UK not to put refugees' lives at risk - Refugee Council
February 11, 2002

New Refugee Council report warns UK not to put refugees’ lives at risk

Refugee Council statement

Refugees forcibly returned to Sri Lanka face a potential catalogue of human rights abuses – torture, arrest, detention, disappearances and in some cases, death.

Published today by the Refugee Council, Sri Lanka: Human Rights and Refugee Returns exposes the shocking real-life experiences of those forced to return. At the 11th hour the British Home Office was ordered by the High Court to return to Britain Arasaratnam Kumarakuruparan, a Tamil who they had just deported. The British High Commissioner in Colombo was instructed to meet his plane to ensure he was not picked up by the Sri Lankan security forces and put him safely on the next flight back to London.

Nick Hardwick, Chief Executive of the Refugee Council said:

“The UK Government policy is wholly inadequate and misguided and could be putting lives at risk. This exposure of the grave situation in Sri Lanka, coming so soon after the U-turn by the Government on its controversial policy on Zimbabwean asylum seekers, makes the case for the Home Office to set up an independent body to document human rights records and produce country assessments that are objective, comprehensive and up-to-date.

“The evidence of grave human rights violations with impunity in Sri Lanka speaks for itself: arrest, detention without trial, mass scale disappearances, torture, deaths in custody, brutal ethnic conflict – a country in turmoil – yet, the Home Office maintains a rigid policy of rejecting and returning Sri Lankan refugees.

“And, despite a deterioration of the human rights situation in Sri Lanka since 1993, the rejection of asylum applications has actually increased dramatically.”

Britain’s rate of refusal far outweighs its European counterpart France. Between 1990 and 2000 only 1.9% of Sri Lankan asylum seekers were granted refugee status, compared to 73.6% in France. For the same period in Canada 80.9% were granted refugee status.

Home Office statistics also show that though the vast majority of Sri Lankans are being rejected, a massive number of decisions are being overturned on appeal. Between January and September 2001, 13% were granted refugee status, and 4% given permission to stay on humanitarian grounds (i.e. granted Exceptional Leave to Remain). In the same period, 1,465 appeals were overturned, clearly indicating that the initial Home Office decisions are flawed.

Immigration solicitor, Tony Paterson, specialises in Tamil cases. He said:

“Practising asylum lawyers will strongly welcome Sri Lanka: Human Rights and Return of Refugees. The Refugee Council has pushed the Home Office’s unjust policy towards Tamil asylum seekers high up the political agenda by detailing the dangers met by rejected asylum-seekers on return to Colombo – such as torture, extortion and extremely poor prison conditions.

“This paper highlights the low rate of recognition of Tamils as refugees in the UK compared to much higher rates in France and Canada. It shows the striking divergence between reasons given for refusing Tamil asylum applications and the Home Office’s own Sri Lanka `Country Assessments’ – which show those reasons to be routinely ill-informed, policy-driven and unfair.”

The report documents the failure of the European Union to meet its own objectives set out in the High Level Working Group Action Plan on freedom, security and asylum in Sri Lanka.

Nick Hardwick said, “Until the EU puts its own good words into action and addresses human rights in Sri Lanka it seems incredible that vulnerable people are being returned or left in limbo, and not granted the safety they need.”


Download a copy of Sri Lanka: Human Rights and Refugee Returns.