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Breach of confidentiality in Sri Lankan asylum return

Breach of confidentiality in Sri Lankan asylum return

An investigation is required as a matter of extreme urgency into an accepted breach of confidentiality in respect of the case of a Sri Lankan Tamil woman detained by the UKBA and pending removal to Sri Lanka on 16 June 2011. It is important to stress that UKBA do not dispute that the breach has occurred as described below.

The woman in question [XT] had an appeal determined on the 29th December 2010. The Immigration Judge had found her claim to be lacking in credibility. Consequently enforcement action has been initiated along with action against other failed asylum seekers. Sources say as many as 80-100 are due to be placed on a charter flight on the 16 June 2011 (see here, here, here and here, for example). The fact that there is a removal en masse arguably itself gives rise to significant concern as to the treatment of the returnees on return, given that the nature of removal will attract attention to them and identify the returnees as failed asylum seekers. See this previous post (slightly out of date now) on general concerns regarding return of Tamils to Sri Lanka.

On 12 May 2011 XT was interviewed in detention in the UK by an official from the Sri Lankan High Commission. She was unrepresented when this interview occurred and her representatives had no notification of the interview.

Ostensibly the interview was for the purposes of verification of identity and nationality.

XT noted with alarm that the official from the Sri Lankan High Commission had a document that had previously been retained by the Home Office in its file which was produced in support of XT’s appeal hearing.

The document related to XT’s claim that her cousin who had been forced to join the LTTE, was shot in April 2008 and had XT’s account details on his person. The letter from the police requested that XT collect the body. This is the document that the SLHC had in its possession.

During the interview with the SLHC, XT was asked why she had come to the UK. Whilst XT was responding the SLHC official produced the letter from her file. It is further claimed by XT that the interview was recorded on CCTV.

Consequently XT complained to her solicitor that her document had been passed by the UKBA to the SLHC without her permission or notification. XT expressed her fears at the prospect of return.

XT’s solicitors submitted a fresh asylum claim on the basis that the possession of an incriminating document and the nature of the interview with the SLHC gave rise to persecutory risk on return.

On the 1st June 2011 the UKBA said this in response to the fresh claim made on the 16 May 2011:

‘Whilst it is accepted that the Police Memo was included in an Emergency Travel Document Pack sent to the SLHC to assist in your re documentation, it is not accepted that the presence of this document places you at risk on return as it is not accepted that you were ever wanted by the police for assisting the LTTE’.

This incident raises the following concerns:

  1. Why has there been no investigation of such a serious breach of confidentiality of an asylum claim and the document submitted in support of the claim?
  2. How did an incriminating document from the Home Office file find its way into the ETD pack?
  3. What other documents have been placed in the pack? XT’s solicitors asked for confirmation of a full list of all the documents submitted in the pack and have received no response.
  4. What is happening to other returnees who ought to now request proof of the contents of their ETD packs in their cases?
  5. Why is the SLHC permitted to interview returnees in UKBA custody as to their asylum claims?
  6. Does the UKBA not have a duty to ensure that returnees in its custody are not placed at risk on return , by ensuring that returnees are not interviewed unrepresented in custody about their asylum claims?

Until these matters are fully resolved and scrutinised by an Independent Tribunal there are obvious concerns as to whether it is safe to return any returnee on the 16 June 2011 or any other date unless each returnee can be satisfied that there the UKBA has a secure system in place that respects the privacy of each returnee and ensures that UKBA actions do not directly or indirectly aggravate risk on return.

At the time of writing there are growing claims made by returnees of detailed questions being asked during the documentation process by the SLHC as to the content of their asylum claims and LTTE connections. There is a strong inference that the UKBA either know this is happening or are reckless as to the consequences.

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