Photograph: Dinuka Liyanawatte/Reuters
Photograph: Dinuka Liyanawatte/Reuters

The Swiss refugee authorities say deportations of rejected Tamil asylum seekers to Sri Lanka have been temporarily suspended following reports of arrests and after international criticism of the military’s increasing influence on the country’s leadership. The late move was taken to avoid further arrests of Tamils upon their return from Switzerland, according to the Federal Migration Office.

A spokeswoman said the Swiss embassy to Colombo was mandated to investigate the fate of two Tamils who were repatriated recently. Among them is a man, who was politically active while he and his family lived as asylum seekers in Switzerland.

Over the past two years, more than 150 people have been repatriated to Sri Lanka, 24 of them against their own will, according to Amnesty. The migration office puts the total figure at about 250. Sadly many of the deported people had received a negative decision on their asylum claim on the basis of three outdated case-law.

Indeed, those who applied in 2012 were rejected on the basis of the T.N. vs. Denmark of 20 January 2011 (Application no. 20594/08), the E.G. vs. United Kingdom case law of the European Court of Human Rights of 31 May 2011 (Application no. 41178/08) and on the basis of its former “country guidance” case law of 27 October 2011 (ATAF 2011/24, E- 6220/2006).

These case-laws take account of events and developments until 2010. Therefore the Swiss asylum authorities have ignored the latest developments taking place in Sri Lanka in 2011 and 2012 and this is a shame.

Hence, the decision of the Federal Office of Migration is far too late in view of the important amount of detailed information gathered by human rights organizations (Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, Freedom from Torture) on the detention and torture of rejected asylum-seekers deported to Sri Lanka in 2011 and in 2012.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the UK based non-governmental organization, Freedom from Torture, as well as, Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch recently reported on the on-going torture of suspected LTTE members in Sri Lanka, those who are suspected of having close connections, and failed asylum seekers returned to Sri Lanka.

The allegations of torture at the hand of the government include, rape, metal rod beatings, detention, use of kerosene, gang rape, cigarette burns, and simulated drowning for the purpose of obtaining confessions and/or punishment for associations with the LTTE or for being Tamil (UK: Halt Deportations of Tamils to Sri Lanka, Human Rights Watch, 25 February 2012, http://www.hrw.org/news/2012/02/24/uk-halt-deportations-tamils-sri-lanka).

According to Amnesty International’s 2013 Annual Report, people with connections to the LTTE or Tamil citizens are particularly at risk of unlawful detentions, forced disappearances, and torture. Despite these human rights abuses, the government rarely prosecutes the perpetrators, thus a culture of impunity exists.

Furthermore, a 2013 report of the Human Rights Watch documents the multiple cases of rape, sexual abuse, and ill treatment of ethnic Tamils at the hands of security forces in Sri Lanka. Although the civil war ended in 2009, security forces have a strong presence in the north and the size and budget for the military is growing (We Will Teach You a Lesson: Sexual Violence Against Tamils by Sri Lankan Secuity Forces, Human Rights Watch, 26 February 2013, http://www.hrw.org/reports/2013/02/26/we-will-teach-you-lesson). The HRW report suggests that the occurrences of rape were not isolated incidences, but rather committed with the acquiescence of senior officials. The report also notes that individuals with connections with the LTTE were particularly at risk.

The reviewed UNHCR Eligibility Guidelines of 21 December 2012 also reported a similar procedure for returned asylum-seekers and stressed the risks of detention, ill treatment and torture. People suspected to be former LTTE combatants or cadres who, because of an injury, had other responsibilities such as working in the media (newspaper) and those with suspected links to Sri Lankan diaspora communities that provide support to the LTTE are also at greater risk.

A recent Appeal to the UK Upper Tribunal (Immigration and Asylum Chamber) in GJ and Others (post-civil war: returnees) Sri Lanka CG [2013] UKUT 00319 (IAC) (February, March, April 2013) compiles the most recent research on the current situation in Sri Lanka and on the risks for returned asylum applicants. The information provided by the legal representatives in this case can be regarded as the most updated country guidance on Sri Lanka. In this appeal it is stated that: “The government’s present objective is to identify Tamil activists in the diaspora who are working for Tamil separatism (…) Its focus is on preventing both (a) the resurgence of the LTTE or any similar Tamil separatist organization and (b) the revival of the civil war within Sri Lanka”. It also found that the Sri Lankan authorities developed sophisticated intelligence to monitor activities within Sri Lanka and diasporas.

The Federal Office of Migration and the Federal Administrative Tribunal have blatantly ignored those reports. Consequently, several Tamil cases are before the UN Committee against Torture to avoid the forced return of rejected asylum-seekers.

In August, human rights groups have launched a petition calling for an end – not just a temporary suspension – to deportations to Sri Lanka. Amnesty International (Switzerland) accused the Sri Lankan government of using harsh measures to crack down on suspected political opponents. The petition also asks the Swiss authorities to break off negotiations, which started in 2009, on a formal repatriation accord with Sri Lanka.

Tamils in Switzerland
An estimated 50,000 people from Sri Lanka, mainly ethnic Tamils, live in Switzerland. Nearly 3,000 of them are asylum seekers, according to the Federal Migration Office.

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