UNHCR alarmed as Sri Lanka extends deportation to families outside detention

Briefing Notes, 12 August 2014

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Adrian Edwards to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 12 August 2014, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

UNHCR is alarmed that recent deportations of asylum-seekers from Sri Lanka are growing in size and scope despite international calls to stop sending them back to a place where their lives could be in danger.

In all, 88 Pakistanis have been sent home since August 1. Initially, the deportees were men who had been placed into detention. Now, we are seeing whole families being deported.

The first case happened on August 3 when a detained man was sent back to Pakistan, followed two days later by his wife and daughter, picked up from their home. A family of six was sent back last Saturday, followed by another couple and two siblings yesterday. In all, there are now 11 women and eight children among the deported.

Some of the latest deportees had their passports and asylum-seeker certificates seized last week. They were told to go to Colombo airport, where they were placed on flights to Pakistan.

Our staff have also heard about families becoming separated as a result of deportation including a man sent home over a week ago and whose pregnant wife remains in Sri Lanka.

UNHCR is seriously concerned at these deportations, including of families and vulnerable people whose international protection needs have not been assessed. By sending these people back, the Government of Sri Lanka is in breach of its obligations under international law concerning the principle of no-forced-returns, or non-refoulement.

According to UNHCR guidelines issued to governments and other decision makers on eligibility of asylum claims, members of religious minorities including the Ahmadiyya Muslim, Christian and Shia minority communities in Pakistan, may be in need of international protection and require particularly careful examination of their asylum claims.

UNHCR reiterates its call to the Government of Sri Lanka to stop the deportations immediately and to grant access to asylum seekers in detention so that our staff can assess their needs for international protection. Some 157 asylum seekers, including 84 Pakistanis, 71 Afghans and 2 Iranians remain in detention in the country.

These recent developments have heightened anxiety among the refugee and asylum-seeker population in Sri Lanka. Many are afraid to leave their homes for fear of arrest, detention and deportation.

In addition, it is also affecting UNHCR's ability to process the high number of new arrivals we have seen in the last year. Our Colombo office is still awaiting the government's response to a plan it has submitted to address the backlog of cases and stands ready to constructively engage with Government to find a solution to the situation of these asylum-seekers.

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