Fears for torture survivors as rejected asylum seekers returned to Sri Lanka
A group of rejected asylum seekers were removed to Sri Lanka on Thursday despite their fears of torture on return. A subsequent removal flight is due to take place on 21 July.
Freedom from Torture, which received referrals to help 334 survivors of torture from Sri Lanka in the last two years, is gravely concerned that individuals forcibly returned to Sri Lanka may face serious risks on their return and that any torture survivors among them will not have access to adequate rehabilitation services.
“The survivors we work with have fled the most unimaginable horror in Sri Lanka. They are at serious risk of their trauma being compounded if they are returned to the very State responsible for their torture, where they would not have access to the rehabilitative services they desperately need,” said Keith Best, Freedom from Torture’s CEO.
Freedom from Torture has seen a large increase in the numbers of traumatised asylum seekers referred for help in recent years. Accounts of burnings with hot irons, rape, sexual abuse and long periods of solitary confinement have been commonplace in clients’ testimony.
Keith Best said: “We are also seriously concerned that rejected asylum seekers returned to Sri Lanka may be at risk of torture. Amnesty International has documented the continued arrest and detention of refused asylum seekers on their return and have made public their awareness of cases of torture on return.”
While accountability for human rights violations in Sri Lanka remains elusive, in April 2011 a UN Panel of Experts submitted a long-awaited report concluding that tens of thousands of civilians were killed in northern Sri Lanka between January and May 2009. This week’s Channel 4 documentary ‘Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields’ provided further evidence of serious abuses. Freedom from Torture has joined many others in calling for an independent investigation to be launched.
Keith Best said: “The UK government should be working to protect individuals who have fled persecution and torture and seeking to hold the perpetrators to account. Recent media reports that the UK Border Agency has shared files on refused Tamil asylum seekers with the Sri Lankan government is utterly shocking.”
In June 2009, recognising the need for a support network for large numbers of vulnerable people, Freedom from Torture established a Tamil support group where survivors could share their experiences and concerns, helping each other as they struggled to adapt to living in the UK – in many cases with the threat of being returned hanging over them – whilst being deeply concerned about friends and family still caught up in the violence.
The UN accused the Sri Lankan government of waging “a war without witnesses”. Many of Freedom from Torture’s Tamil clients have showed great determination in countering the Sri Lankan government's attempts to deny reports of torture and ill-treatment: "There are so many more people like us, we are not the only ones, and yet the international community doesn't really know the truth."