Sri Lanka’s top court moved over expulsion of Pakistanis

UNHCR spokesman ‘dismayed’ at arrests of asylum-seekers

Ali Haider Habib September 14, 2014


Sri Lankan human rights defenders on Saturday moved the country’s apex court against the deportation of Pakistani, Afghan and Iranian asylum-seekers.

Lawyer Lakshan Dias of Rights Now Collective for Democracy, a non-profit organisation formed to protect human rights in Sri Lanka, told The Express Tribune that the case will be heard in the Supreme Court on September 29.

On September 1, the Court of Appeal had given the green light to the government to send asylum-seekers back to Pakistan. "Over the last two weeks, a few people have been sent back each day,” said Dias.

A proposal will now be put forward to halt the deportation process. "Instead of deporting people, the government should start a detention facility where churches, mosques and civil society can contribute towards the cost of its upkeep and provide people with food, water and other amenities," said Dias.

“The government has already shown interest in the proposal and has conveyed the message to the UNHCR.”

Concerned by the government’s move of deporting scores of Pakistanis, the UNHCR has also urged the government to stop deportations and to protect asylum seekers and refugees.

“UNHCR is gravely concerned about the resumption of arrests, detention and deportation of asylum seekers and refugees in Sri Lanka," UNHCR spokesperson Babar Baloch said at a press briefing in Geneva on Friday.

“UNHCR has learnt that between September 3 and 11, 62 Pakistani and 3 Afghan asylum-seekers were arrested and detained; 40 were subsequently deported. Since early June the authorities have arrested and detained a total of 328 refugees and asylum-seekers, and deported 183 of them to Pakistan and Afghanistan," he said. “We believe there are still 102 people in detention — including 38 Pakistanis and 64 Afghans — which UNHCR is concerned about,” said Baloch

“When UNHCR met with the government earlier this month, assurances were given for the immediate release of all asylum-seekers detained since June. While we appreciate the government's speedy action to release 71 Pakistanis in early September, not everyone in detention has been released and we are dismayed that the arrests and deportations have resumed.”

Baloch urged the Sri Lankan government to refrain from any further arrests and deportations and to uphold its responsibilities under international law. “We reiterate our call on the authorities to allow access to the detained asylum-seekers so that we can assess their international protection needs.”

Most Pakistani asylum seekers are from minority groups such as the Christian and Ahmadiya community whose members say they have sought refuge in Sri Lanka to escape persecution at the hands of militants.

Following the Sri Lankan Court of Appeal’s order earlier this month, many Pakistanis went into hiding for fear of being detained or sent back.

A large number of these asylum-seekers reside in Negombo in the Western Province of Sri Lanka.

When contacted, Aziz Ahmad, the representative of the Ahmadiya community in Negombo, was apprehensive of giving any details about the people under his care. “What can you do? You cannot stop the Sri Lankan government from deporting people. Please don’t involve us in any of this,” he said over the phone.

Published in The Express Tribune, September 14th, 2014.


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