A Sri Lankan court on Friday ordered authorities to stop deporting Pakistani asylum seekers, following a complaint they were being forcibly sent home without having their claims properly assessed.
Petitioner Anila Imran has cited the controller of the immigration and emigration, the minister of external affairs, the defence minister, the defence secretary, the inspector general of police, the human rights commissioner and the attorney general as respondents in her petition.
The United Nations refugee agency says 88 Pakistanis have been deported since Aug. 1. The agency, UNHCR, says it has been denied access to another 75 people who are awaiting deportation.
“The president of the Appeal Court granted interim relief for two weeks to suspend the deportation of all asylum seekers,” said Lakshan Dias, the lawyer of a 38-year-old Pakistani woman whose husband, brother and father are currently in detention.
The woman brought the original complaint. The Sri Lankan government says the Pakistanis are part of an influx of economic immigrants in the past year who have become a burden on the country’s resources and potentially compromised state and regional security. But Sri Lankan’s Appeals Court said it wanted to look into the cases further and temporarily suspended deportations.
Appeals Court Judge WA Salam has ordered the respondents to appear in court on August 29.
It was not immediately clear if the Sri Lankan government would abide by the court ruling. Chulananda Perera, controller of the immigration and emigration department, said he had could not comment because he had not received the court order.
The injunction comes three days after the UNHCR accused Sri Lanka of breaching international law and called on it to halt the deportations and allow the agency to assess claims. According to UNHCR guidelines, members of religious minorities may need protection and require particularly careful examination of their asylum claims. Authorities deny violating any international laws, saying Sri Lanka is not a signatory to the 1951 U.N. Refugee Convention.
The number of refugees or asylum seekers rose by 700 per cent in the year through June 2014 from the previous year, says the foreign ministry. That included 1,562 asylum seekers and 308 refugees.
“This is a fundamental breach of the principle of no forced returns,” said Adrian Edwards, spokesperson for the UN high commissioner for refugees (UNHCR).
“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,” he said.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 16th,2014.
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