Fear of flying for Sri Lanka’s returned asylum seekers

Nobody should be deported from the UK if they are at risk of torture. Yet today, perhaps even as you read this, a plane carrying Sri Lankan asylum-seekers is returning them to Sri Lanka, and their safety cannot be guaranteed. The details of where and when the flight departs are unknown; the UK Border Agency aren’t telling.

It is hard to imagine how petrified those passengers must be. Such was the fear that in June, when the British government announced that it would return a group of Sri Lankans, one of them tried to take their own life at an airport detention facility. They had reportedly received death threats from Sri Lanka warning of violent reprisals when they got back into the country.

Amnesty has in the past, documented cases of returned asylum seekers being tortured in Sri Lanka. Freedom from Torture today echoed those fears that Tamils, or even people suspected of being Tamils, could face torture when they return to Sri Lanka.

We know of journalists who have attempted to follow up the fates of people who were returned in June, but whilst some individuals have said they feared for their own safety on the phone, none are prepared to meet in person, or go on camera… for fear of reprisals. In this context, it is hugely disappointing that Britain is continuing to remove people to an uncertain fate.

What we do know though is that the British government has a responsibility under international law to protect people at risk of torture and should not remove them if there is a threat. And that Amnesty has documented the endemic use of torture in Sri Lanka. And that a culture of impunity prevails, made more pronounced by the failings of the internal inquiry into the brutal closing episode of the civil war. Read more about our criticisms of that inquiry, here.   

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Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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