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ICC Note:

Starting in the summer, the Sri Lankan government began a campaign to round up and detain many of the asylum seekers seeking refuge in their country. After detention, many of these asylum seekers faced forced deportations back to the country that the fled. Many in the international community have called these actions illegal under international law, but the Sri Lankan Supreme Court disagrees. Now, hundreds more face deportation, many of whom are Christians fleeing persecution in countries like Pakistan and Afghanistan.

10/8/2014 Sri Lanka (WSWS) – In a clear attack on basic democratic rights, Sri Lanka’s Supreme Court on September 29 rejected an attempt to prevent the forcible deportation of Pakistani and Afghan asylum seekers. Six human rights activists filed the case requesting the reversal of an earlier appeal court verdict permitting the deportations.

The petitioners’ case explained that the previous ruling, allowing the government to arrest, detain and expel those seeking refuge, was illegal and in breach of international refugee laws. It warned that the deportation of the asylum seekers to Pakistan and Afghanistan endangered their lives.

Legal counsel for the government argued that Sri Lanka was not a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention banning the deportation of asylum seekers and that although Sri Lanka signed the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the United Nations Consolidated Appeals Process, this was not approved by the parliament.

The Supreme Court upheld the previous verdict on the grounds that there were insufficient facts to hear the case. Successive Sri Lankan governments have refused to ratify international conventions on refugees, which provide limited protection against “refoulement” or their return to countries where they face persecution.

Immigration and police authorities began rounding up hundreds of Pakistani and Afghan refugees in June even though they were officially registered with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and were waiting to be sent to a third country. Nearly 200 Pakistani asylum seekers were arrested and herded into detention camps at Mirihana, in the Colombo suburbs, and Boosa in southern Sri Lanka and denied access to lawyers. Immigration authorities claimed the asylum seekers were “illegal” because they arrived in the country on tourist visas.

Speaking in Geneva earlier this month, Sri Lanka’s UN envoy Samantha Jayasuriya cynically attempted to blame the UNHCR for the plight of the asylum seekers and insisted that her country was doing its best for refugees. She claimed that increased arrivals caused “serious law and order, security, as well as health related issues for Sri Lanka.” She provided no evidence to substantiate these allegations.

Jayasuriya and immigration authorities even ludicrously claimed that Pakistani asylum seekers introduced malaria to Sri Lanka. The re-emergence of malaria, however, happened long before refugees came to Sri Lanka.

Jayasuriya’s “security” and “law and order” claims echo the racialist denunciations of asylum seekers by Sinhala and Buddhist extremist groups, such as Jathika Hela Urumaya, Bodu Bala Sena, and Sihala Ravaya.

President Mahinda Rajapakse’s government has refused to provide proper housing, health facilities and stable income for asylum seekers, who have been witch-hunted and subjected to violent attacks by racist thugs.

There are about 1,800 refugees and asylum seekers in Sri Lanka, mostly from Pakistan and Afghanistan. The UNHCR estimates that 108 Pakistanis, including 11 women and 8 children, were forcibly deported between August 1 and 14. According to a recent report, 40 were expelled in September.

Most of those who fled Pakistan are Christians, members of the Ahmadiya sect, or Shia Muslims who have suffered government persecution or violent attacks by Muslim extremists. If deported back to Pakistan or Afghanistan they face the possibility of imprisonment, torture or even capital punishment.

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