Updates, commentary and advice on immigration and asylum law
New course on problem issues in permanent residence applications available now
Charter flight to Sri Lanka 15 December 2011

Charter flight to Sri Lanka 15 December 2011

EDIT 14/12/11: Treasury Solicitor letter to High Court regarding charter flight can be found here.

Question: Who said this?

We will continue to investigate any credible and relevant allegations and review our policy in light of any findings.

Answer: Alistair Burt, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Afghanistan/South Asia, counter terrorism/proliferation, North America, Middle East and North Africa), Foreign and Commonwealth Office; North East Bedfordshire, Conservative (source).

And who said this?

We constantly monitor the country situation, and issues of safety on return have not arisen. There is no evidence that those who were previously removed to Sri Lanka have been mistreated. All those who returned to Sri Lanka last week passed through border control procedures and were allowed to proceed without incident.

Answer: Chris Dix, the South Asia Regional Director of the UK Border Agency, interviewed by the Ratmalana-based newspaper The Sunday Leader in the wake of what it called “the controversy and concerns over the recent deportation of Sri Lankans from Britain, including failed asylum seekers” (27 June 2011).

Who said this?

After I arrived in Sri Lanka and tried to leave the airport, two men stopped me, asked for my passport and asked me to come with them. They showed me their IDs – two people from CID[Criminal Investigation Department]. They took me out of a different entrance and pulled me inside a van. They started to ask questions about why I had come back to Sri Lanka – saying that I had escaped the first time but not this time. They tied my hands and legs and kicked me very badly.

I was taken to a building. They asked questions like ‘why have you come back again?, ‘what did you do in the UK?’, ‘where is your brother?’ [an LTTE member]. I said I had no contact with him. They tortured me inside the room by removing my clothes and hitting me with burning irons. I was feeling a burning sensation all over my body. They kept me for two days and I found my body was all swollen. On the third day they put me inside the van. I thought they were going to shoot me. Later I realised that my family had given them some money and because of that I was released.

Answer: Rohan, Sri Lankan torture survivor (source).

Rohan was tortured on his return to Sri Lanka from the UK in early 2011. He was referred to Freedom from Torture (formerly the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture) several months ago when he escaped – on payment of a bribe by his family – and flew back to the UK.

The case history concerning Rohan and other failed asylum seekers is referred to in an UKBA document called Sri Lanka: Bulletin: Recent reports on torture and ill treatment. The  Bulletin was published on 30 November 2011.

On 28 November 2011 the Parliamentary Secretary of State, Alastair Burt stated in parliament that:

We will continue to investigate any credible and relevant allegations and review our policy in light of any findings.

Removal directions were set for failed asylum seekers from at least 28 November 2011 from notices that I have seen. That is before the UKBA bulletin was published.

There is no evidence or statement to indicate that the UKBA have considered whether collective expulsion  by way of charter flight on 15 December 2011 is appropriate given public statements given by the UKBA  that the policy on removal will be reviewed. Has it been reviewed?

The NGOs referred to in the bulletin have handed over the same materials to the UN Committee Against Torture (CAT) for investigation. Those materials include reports relating to abuse of failed asylum seekers from highly reputable sources.

See the Amnesty International submission:

RISK OF TORTURE FOR FAILED ASYLUM SEEKERS

Sri Lankan nationals returning to the country after living abroad are at risk   of being arbitrarily detained on arrival or shortly thereafter. Sri Lankan     nationals who are failed asylum seekers are especially at risk and are likely   to be interrogated on return.

Sumith Mendis and Indika Mendis were detained in 2009 at the Christmas Island detention centre after the boat in which they were crew members was stopped by Australian authorities and found to be carrying Sri Lankan asylum seekers.  Their own requests for asylum were denied and they were deported to Sri Lanka and promptly arrested and handed over to the    Central Investigative Department (CID). Sumith Mendis was released, but Indika Mendis said that he was tortured in CID custody, sustaining severe ear injuries before being transferred to the notorious Negombo prison where he was held for eight months. On 14 August 2010, the brothers were arrested again, apparently on suspicion that they were again planning to migrate to Australia. Sumith Mendis stated that he was tortured by the CID for six         days, experiencing beatings and psychological abuse.

The Freedom from Torture submission included the following on return to Sri Lanka from abroad:

Fourteen of the 35 cases report periods of residence or travel abroad preceding detention and torture: 5 travelled for educational purposes, 3 for family reasons and 4 for the purpose of seeking refuge outside of Sri Lanka. In the remaining 2 cases, the purpose of travel was not stated.

Of the 4 who sought refuge abroad, 3 were forcibly returned to Sri Lanka. In one case the individual had claimed asylum unsuccessfully in the UK a number of years earlier but was returned to Sri Lanka from another European state whilst en route to a non-European state where a new asylum claim was to be lodged. The second case involves a similar scenario –an individual who had claimed asylum unsuccessfully in a European state was returned by a second European state whilst en route to a non-European state where a new asylum claim was to be lodged. The third was returned from another European state after two years of residence, having been refused asylum there. In each of these cases, the person was tortured on return.

Of those 10 cases involving individuals who travelled abroad for non-asylum purposes, 9 returned voluntarily to Sri Lanka (all from the UK). Five returned voluntarily for temporary visits for a variety of family reasons including family sickness, child custody issues, to visit family and attend family celebrations. Two individuals returned due to the disappearance of  their fathers and 2 others returned voluntarily. The remaining individual was en route to a non-European state for family reasons, but was returned en route due to the use of false documents.

All of the 14 individuals who had returned to Sri Lanka after a period abroad, whether they left Sri Lanka through a legal route or otherwise, were subsequently detained and tortured.

In 5 of the 14 cases, the episode of detention and torture documented in the MLR occurred over a year and up to 7 years after return. However in 9 cases the individual was detained within days, weeks or a month of their return. Of these 9 cases, 6 were detained in Colombo, either from their home  or at checkpoints  or from a lodging house. Two were detained at checkpoints elsewhere in the country and 1 was detained directly from the airport on arrival.

Four of the 6 cases detained in 2010 report being arrested from their own home or that of their family, in locations including Kandy and Colombo. One was taken at a checkpoint and the other from his workplace in Colombo. Two of these individuals report being taken by plain clothed ‘officials’ and transported to the detention facility in unmarked ‘white vans’. Four of these 6 individuals had recently returned from abroad, 3 for family or health reasons and 1 due to a refused asylum claim (from the UK and another European state respectively). Five of the 6 cases report detention due to an imputed association with the LTTE through a family member or friend. The sixth case was associated with the political opposition during the 2010 presidential elections.

Of those 8 cases detained in 2009 after the ceasefire (June onwards), the majority report being taken from their homes in Colombo , Batticola and Kalmunai. These individuals were taken in some cases by plain clothed ‘officials’, and in others by uniformed police. One individual was visiting Sri Lanka from the UK and was accused of having fundraised for the LTTE. Three others had an imputed association with the LTTE through family members or their own history of detention and 1 was a supporter of an opposition party.

The remaining 3 cases were taken at a checkpoint in Omanthi, at the airport (removed to Sri Lanka following a refused asylum claim) and during a round-up of Tamils in Vavuniya following LTTE activity in the area.

The ensuing CAT report [Word document] is damning. For example, on torture at paragraph 6 it reads as follows:

Notwithstanding the new circumstances prevailing since the defeat of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and the end of the military conflict that has consumed the country for nearly 30 years, and the State party’s public commitment to the Committee that it has a zero-tolerance policy on torture as a matter of State policy and practice, the Committee remains seriously concerned about the continued and consistent allegations of widespread use of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment of suspects in police custody, especially to extract confessions or information to be used in criminal proceedings. The Committee is further concerned at reports that suggest that torture and ill-treatment perpetrated by state actors, both the military and the police, have continued in many parts of the country after the conflict ended in May 2009 and is still occurring in 2011 (arts. 2, 4, 11 and 15).

In response to criticisms concerning the last charter flight on 28 September 2011 the UKBA’s Chief Executive, Rob Whiteman – on behalf of Immigration Minister Damian Green – stated that:

The return of individuals is not enforced unless we and the courts consider that it is safe to do so.

At the Labour Party conference in Liverpool, shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander said he had written to William Hague asking for assurances that 50 Tamils returned to Sri Lanka would not be tortured. Mr Alexander said:

We need to be clear that the British government has done its job in ensuring that these people are not going to be tortured.

I will be seeking assurances from William Hague that he has personally looked into the matter and is sure that torture is not going to be perpetrated and human rights abuses are not going to be committed.

The timing of the decision to remove failed asylum seekers by way of charter flight may seem to observers to be designed to avoid the fall out bound to be produced by the damning CAT observations on torture.

It is worth noting that some press reports suggest that Liam Fox had been in secret talks with Sri Lankan officials concerning the deportation of Sri Lankan refugees in the wake of UN investigations.

The verbatim translation of the Tamilwin.com article is available here.

British Defence Secretary Liam Fox´s Secretary visits Sri Lanka Secretly [Thursday, 16 June 2011, 10:59.15 AM GMT]

British Defence Secretary Liam Fox´s Secretary conducted a secret meeting with some key politicians according to a Sinhaleese News WebSite.

LankaNews Website reports that last Thursday Liam Fox´s Secretary secretly met UNP MP Wijedasa Rajapaksa and former foreign minister Rohitha Bogollagama.

This secret meeting was held in a Colombo restaurant called the Spice.According to High Commission sources, Liam Fox´s Secretary is visiting Sri Lanka to hold talks with Sri Lankan government about Sri Lankan refugees living in the UK.

Liam Fox´s Secretary has held talks with Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, Attorney General Mohan Peries and other high ranking government officials. Reports have emerged that it is former Foreign Minster Rohitha Bogollagama who had made the arrangements for this trip.

It has also emerged that Wijedasa Rajapaksa is to face adverse*publicity* that may arise *against Sri Lanka in the UN* due to efforts to deport Sri Lankan refugees from Britain.

Not yet a member of Free Movement?

Sign up for as little as £20 plus VAT per month

Join Now

Benefits Include

  • Unlimited access to all articles
  • Access to our forums
  • E-books for free
  • Access to all online training materials
  • Downloadable training certificates
Shares