The United Nations refugee agency today expressed alarm that recent deportations of asylum-seekers from Sri Lanka back to Pakistan were growing in size and scope despite international calls to stop sending them back to a place where their lives could be in danger.
“In all, 88 Pakistanis had been sent home since 1 August. Initially, those deportees had been men previously placed into detention, but now whole families were being deported,” Adrian Edwards, spokesperson for the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) told reporters in Geneva today.
“UNHCR is seriously concerned at these deportations, including of families and vulnerable people whose international protection needs have not been assessed. By sending these people back, the Government of Sri Lanka is in breach of its obligations under international law concerning the principle of no-forced-returns, or non-refoulement,” he stated.
Mr. Edwards noted that the first cases happened on 3 August, when a detained man had been sent back to Pakistan, followed two days later by his wife and daughter, picked up from their home. A family of six was sent back last Saturday, followed by another couple and two siblings yesterday. In all, there are now 11 women and eight children among the deported.
Those families had been told to go to Colombo airport, where they had been placed on flights to Pakistan. Some of the latest deportees had their passports and asylum-seeker certificates seized the previous week.
“Our staff has also heard about families becoming separated as a result of deportation – including a man sent home over a week ago and whose pregnant wife remains in Sri Lanka,” he said adding that the recent developments have heightened anxiety among the refugee and asylum-seeker population in Sri Lanka. Many are even afraid to leave their homes for fear of arrest, detention and deportation.
According to UNHCR guidelines issued to governments and other decision makers on eligibility of asylum claims, members of religious minorities including the Ahmadiyya Muslim, Christian and Shia minority communities in Pakistan, may be in need of international protection and require particularly careful examination of their asylum claims.
In addition, UNHCR reiterated its call to the Government of Sri Lanka to stop deportations immediately and to grant access to asylum seekers in detention so that its staff can assess their needs for international protection. Some 157 asylum seekers, including 84 Pakistanis, 71 Afghans and 2 Iranians remain in detention in the country.