Aug 12, Geneva: The United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, expressing alarm today as Sri Lanka continued deporting asylum seekers despite calls from the agency to stop sending them back to the places from where they have fled called on the Sri Lankan government to immediately stop deportations.
UNHCR spokesperson Adrian Edwards at the press briefing, on 12 August 2014, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva said the refugee agency is alarmed that recent deportations of asylum-seekers from Sri Lanka are growing in size and scope despite international calls to stop sending them back to a place where their lives could be in danger.
Sri Lankan government recently 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 said 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.
Edwards said Sri Lanka has sent back 88 Pakistanis since August 1. Earlier the deportees were men who had been placed into detention but now, whole families are being deported. In all, there are now 11 women and eight children among the deported.
According to the spokesperson, some of the latest deportees had their passports and asylum-seeker certificates seized last week. They were told to go to Colombo airport, where they were placed on flights to Pakistan.
He said the UNHCR 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.
"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.
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.
UNHCR reiterated its call to the Sri Lankan government to stop the deportations immediately and to grant access to asylum seekers in detention so that UNHCR 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, the agency said.
"These recent developments have heightened anxiety among the refugee and asylum-seeker population in Sri Lanka. Many are afraid to leave their homes for fear of arrest, detention and deportation," the spokesperson said.
"In addition, it is also affecting UNHCR's ability to process the high number of new arrivals we have seen in the last year," he added.
The Sri Lankan 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.
The UNHCR spokesperson said their office in Colombo is still awaiting the government's response to a plan it has submitted to address the backlog of cases and stands ready to constructively engage with the Government to find a solution to the situation of these asylum-seekers.