Aug 03, Colombo: The United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR expressed deep concern yesterday about the recent deportation of Pakistani asylum seekers from Sri Lanka.
The Sri Lankan Department of Immigration and Emigration has confirmed that 18 asylum seekers of Pakistani origin who were registered with UNHCR were deported in the last two days, the UNHCR said in a statement. There are fears that 10 more people could follow today.
The UNHCR said it is dismayed by these actions of the government of Sri Lanka which come in the wake of continuous discussions that were held with the Ministry of External Affairs and the Ministry of Defense and Urban Development since a special operation to arrest asylum seekers and refugees began on 9 June 2014.
Justifying the action, the Sri Lankan government said the country is burdened with the recent increase in influx of asylum seekers, mostly Pakistanis and the UNHCR is too slow to process their cases and resettle them.
The government points out that state responsibility on its international obligations are nuanced and balanced in the context of domestic compulsions and a State cannot be expected to carry a burden of this nature for an indefinite period of time.
The UNHCR says so far, a total of 214 Pakistani and Afghan "people of concern" to UNHCR have been arrested and held in two detention centers.
The refugee agency said it continues to seek access to them to determine their need for international protection.
According to the UNHCR, the deportation goes against the principle of no forced return, or non-refoulement, enshrined in international customary law. The principle is binding in all states and precludes hem from sending asylum seekers and refugees to a country where their life or freedom would be threatened.
The Sri Lankan government says the influx of asylum seekers and their tendency not to have an established place of residence has resulted in serious law and order, security, as well as health related issues for the authorities.
The government said it asked the UNHCR to expedite the process of resettlement to ensure its completion within a short period of time and ensure that asylum seekers are provided with adequate facilities and monetary assistance to live in Sri Lanka until their claims are processed or resettlement is found.
However, the UNHCR has not addressed these issues and too slow to works on refugee requirements. In some cases, resettlement applications have been pending for over 5 years, the government noted.
UNHCR appealed to the Sri Lankan authorities to uphold their responsibilities under international law and ensure full respect for the rights of people in need of international protection.
UNHCR said it stands ready to work closely with the government of Sri Lanka in addressing refugee related matters.