SRI LANKA: Fears for refugees as Sri Lanka rejects bid to halt deportations

Sunday 12 October 2014

Date: 7 October 2014

Type: News

Source: UCA NEWS

Keywords: Human rights, asylum seekers

Rights groups voiced fears on Monday that a recent decision by Sri Lanka’s top court will mean another surge in the deportation of Pakistani asylum seekers.

Six human rights advocates had filed a petition to the Supreme Court claiming that recent deportation orders were illegal and will put asylum seekers — frequently Christians or members of the minority Ahmadiya Muslim sect — in danger if returned to their countries of origin. But the court rejected the petition to stop the deportations late last month.

Human rights lawyer Lakshan Dias, who appeared in court to speak in support of the plea, told ucanews.com that the Attorney-General’s Department had decided that activists could not file the petition on behalf of asylum seekers.

The government argued that it has no obligation to asylum seekers since the country is not a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention, Dias said.

“The court said that there are no sufficient laws in the country in this regard and also the country has no responsibility [to asylum seekers],” he said.

In light of the decision, advocates are worried the deportation of asylum seekers will continue.

“If we send them back they will be killed,” said Father M Sathyavelu, a priest who was part of the group who filed the original petition in August. “It is the country’s obligation to protect asylum seekers.”

According to the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), authorities have deported 312 asylum-seekers to their countries of origin — mainly Pakistan and Afghanistan. In August, UN rights experts criticized Sri Lanka for deporting asylum seekers without properly assessing their claims.

“Most asylum seekers from Pakistan belong to religious minorities, including Ahmadiya Muslim, Christian and Shia groups that are often subjected to persecution, discrimination and violence in Pakistan,” Rita Izsák, the UN’s special rapporteur on minority issues, said in an Aug 14 statement. “Many of them are being deported despite being registered with UNHCR and having their first instance interviews still pending.”

In a statement this month, the UNHCR again urged the Sri Lankan government to protect asylum seekers and refugees.

According to the government, however, Sri Lanka is dealing with a “rapid influx” in refugee applications, which are burdening the country’s resources. In a speech to the UN in Geneva this month, Sri Lanka’s UN envoy Samantha Jayasuriya said her country is doing its best.

“During the last two years, Sri Lanka witnessed an almost 700% increase in the arrival of asylum seekers [and] refugees. By June 2014, there were 1606 applicants and 321 refugees,” she told the UN. “Regrettably, the process of resettlement slowed down considerably in 2013 and 2014, resulting in serious law and order, security, as well as health related issues for Sri Lanka.”

Instead, the envoy pointed a finger at the UNHCR, saying the agency needs to do more to help asylum seekers whose applications are in the pipeline, approved refugees waiting for resettlement, and asylum seekers whose claims have been rejected.

“These issues remain yet to be resolved,” she said.

For asylum seekers still in the country, however, the situation is a precarious one.

A Pakistani asylum seeker interviewed in Negombo, 30 kilometers north of the capital, Colombo, said he was worried about his future in light of the deportations.

“If the Sri Lankan government does not accept us, what can innocent people do,” the asylum seeker, who asked not to be named, told ucanews.com. “… No one has protected us so far.”###

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