Britain is being urged to halt plans to deport a planeload of Tamils to Sri Lanka on Wednesday amid fears they will be at risk of being detained and tortured on arrival.
Up to 50 failed asylum seekers are due to be forcibly removed from the country aboard an aircraft chartered by the UK Border Agency.
The plan has alarmed a number of NGOs, including a medical charity that treats victims of torture, which fears the British government cannot be sure that those deported will be safe in Sri Lanka.
Freedom from Torture, formerly known as the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture, said it received 199 referrals for clinical assistance for Sri Lankans last year and a similar number this year. It said it had clinical evidence that a number of these people have been tortured in Sri Lanka since the end of the civil war in May 2009, some after being returned to the country.
The NGOs are warning there is credible evidence that torture is still taking place and anyone suspected of being linked to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), or Tamil Tigers, is particularly at risk.
Human Rights Watch, the New York-based NGO, said the British government “needed to be extremely careful” about returning any Tamils to Sri Lanka.
Brad Adams, the organisation’s Asia director, said: “The Sri Lankan government continues to show shocking disregard for the due process rights of anyone deemed linked to the Tamil Tigers. Those detained have been tortured and ‘disappeared’.”
Amnesty International said it had documented evidence that failed asylum seekers had suffered torture in Sri Lanka after being removed from Australia.
In an account given to Freedom from Torture, one said: “They tortured me by removing my clothes and hitting me with burning irons. They kept me for two days and my body was all swollen. They showed me photographs of LTTE members, including my brother’s picture, and asked me what he was doing now.”
Keith Best, the chief executive of Freedom from Torture, has written to Damian Green, the Home Office immigration minister asking whether any arrangements are in place to ensure the safety of people removed to Sri Lanka. He said: “I know you will be mindful of the repercussions for the reputation of the UK if those who are returned then face torture.”
The UK Border Agency deported 555 people to Sri Lanka last year, 235 of them failed asylum seekers. (The Guardian)