Sri Lankan asylum seeker describes his torture following forcible return from the UK
As the UK Border Agency prepares for another mass removal of refused asylum seekers on a charter flight to Sri Lanka today (31st May), Freedom from Torture describes the experience of one Tamil survivor, who was tortured after being removed on a similar charter flight from the UK last year. Against a backdrop of yet more evidence of returnees facing torture on return, Freedom from Torture has repeated its call for the UK government to halt all forcible removals of Tamils.
Human Rights Watch revealed this week that it has recently documented five further cases – in addition to the eight cases which the organisation reported in February this year – in which refused Tamil asylum seekers were subjected to torture by Sri Lankan security forces on return from various countries (including the UK), most recently in February 2012.
Suthan is one man who has experienced first-hand the very real dangers for Tamil returnees. He is currently in the process of having a medico-legal report prepared by Freedom from Torture to document the physical and psychological injuries resulting from his torture.
Fearing for his life because of links to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) – for which he had previously been detained and tortured by the TID (Terrorist Investigation Department) – Suthan first fled to the UK from Sri Lanka more than five years ago. Despite having medical evidence that supported his account of being subjected to beatings with sticks and knives and being burned with cigarettes, his asylum application was refused and he was forcibly removed from the UK on a charter flight last year.
On arrival into Colombo Airport, Suthan had his details taken and was interrogated for an hour about his association with the LTTE. The presence of an official from the British High Commission meant he was allowed to leave the airport. Fearing for his safety Suthan went to stay with a relative in another town and during this time the authorities went to his home to look for him. After months in hiding he eventually decided it was safe to return home, however, he was arrested at a checkpoint and bundled into a van.
Suthan was taken to a detention facility where he was interrogated about claiming asylum abroad and accused of working with the LTTE from the UK. He was subjected to forced nakedness; whipped with electric flex; beaten on the soles of his feet with a wooden pole; tied to chair and burned with cigarettes; and, had his head immersed in a bag filled with petrol.
After a bribe was paid to secure his release, Suthan fled the country once again and made his way back to the UK earlier this year.
Keith Best, Freedom from Torture CEO:
Freedom from Torture's forensic documentation of torture highlights the on-going risks to individuals being returned to the country, particularly Tamils with an actual or perceived association to the LTTE. We continue to see a steady stream of referrals to our services for Tamil asylum seekers recently tortured, including where individuals were forcibly removed to Sri Lanka from other countries including the UK.
"Foreign Office Minister Alistair Burt told Parliament that the UK government was investigating allegations and would review its returns policy in the light of any findings of returnees being abused. When there are clear cases of torture following removal to Sri Lanka – including where these claims have been accepted by UK immigration judges when individuals have escaped back to the UK – it begs the question 'what kind of investigations have been going on?'
"This situation has gone on long enough; forcible returns of refused Tamil asylum seekers must be halted until the UK government is sure that they will not be delivering people into the hands of their torturers."