Alarming new evidence from UKBA on removals to Sri Lanka

Damning evidence obtained by Freedom from Torture confirms that since the end of the Sri Lankan civil war, the UK has granted refugee status to at least 15 people who were previously removed from the UK to Sri Lanka where they claim to have been tortured or otherwise harmed.

The disclosures by the UK Border Agency (UKBA) cover the period May 2009 to September 2012 and were in response to a Freedom of Information (FOI) request, lodged by Freedom from Torture in November 2012.

The response was sent to Freedom from Torture in the middle of an important case being heard by the Immigration and Asylum Chamber of the Upper Tribunal on the risks facing Tamils on return to Sri Lanka from the UK. Evidence supplied by Freedom from Torture of Tamils with even low level (real or imputed) links to the LTTE experiencing torture after voluntary return to Sri Lanka in the post-conflict period is central to the case.

Statistics for the last quarter of 2012 have been withheld by the UKBA until 28 February, the very same date that the Agency is believed to be planning another mass removal flight to Sri Lanka, including for Tamils whose protection claims have been refused.

The FOI disclosures contradict repeated claims by Ministers that there is no credible evidence that Tamils removed from the UK have faced torture in Sri Lanka. These denials, trumpeted by the Sri Lankan government, were reiterated earlier this month by Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) Minister Alistair Burt during a trip to Sri Lanka. However, in the face of the UKBA's new disclosures to Freedom from Torture, the FCO told the Guardian that it is "urgently seeking further information from the Home Office about any allegations".

For its part, the UKBA has told the same newspaper that it does not want to "prejudice the outcome of the court case by commenting further" on what it does or does not know about the fate of those it has removed to Sri Lanka, but there is no indication yet that it is preparing to suspend removal directions for Tamils falling within the risk category that Freedom from Torture has identified.

Keith Best, Chief Executive of Freedom from Torture, said:

"After months of churning out guidance for asylum decision-makers designed to discredit the research of Freedom from Torture and other NGOs, the UKBA has finally come clean about its own evidence, which strongly suggests that it has removed people who have subsequently suffered torture or other ill-treatment at the hands of the Sri Lankan authorities.

"It beggars belief that the UK government is still prepared to forcibly return more Tamils when its removals policy for Sri Lanka remains so out of date and before the judiciary, which is considering the policy right now, has a chance to rule on the matter. We have shown that those with even low level LTTE links, whether real or perceived, are at risk of torture but our warnings have not yet been acted upon."

Freedom from Torture's evidence of torture of Tamils who have voluntarily returned to Sri Lanka in the post-conflict period is available here.