Sri Lanka: UN agency expresses ‘grave concern’ at arrest, deportation of asylum-seekers

During the months of July and August 2014, UNHCR provided supermarket vouchers through a special one-time assistance programme to the most vulnerable asylum-seekers in Sri Lanka. Photo: UNHCR

12 September 2014 – Expressing grave concern today about the resumption of arrests, detention and deportation of asylum-seekers and refugees in Sri Lanka, the United Nations refugee agency called on the Government to refrain from such actions and abide by its obligations under international law.

According to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the Sri Lankan Government started its special operation on 9 June this year. And while it came to a halt on 15 August, it resumed on 3 September.

The agency has since learned that between 3 and 11 September, 62 Pakistani and 3 Afghan asylum-seekers were arrested and detained; 40 were subsequently deported. Since early June, the authorities have arrested and detained a total of 328 refugees and asylum-seekers, and deported 183 of them to Pakistan and Afghanistan.

“We believe there are still 102 people of concern to UNHCR in detention, including 38 Pakistanis and 64 Afghans,” UNHCR spokesperson Babar Baloch told a press briefing in Geneva.

He said that when UNHCR met with the Government earlier this month, assurances were given for the immediate release of all asylum-seekers and refugees arrested and detained since June.

“While we appreciate the Government's speedy action to release 71 Pakistani and 2 Iranian refugees and asylum-seekers in early September, not everyone in detention has been released and we are dismayed that the arrests, detention and deportations have resumed,” said Mr. Baloch.

As such, UNHCR is appealing to the Sri Lankan Government to refrain from any further arrests and deportations of people of concern and to uphold its responsibilities under international law.

“We reiterate our call on the authorities to allow access to the detained asylum-seekers so that we can assess their international protection needs,” he continued, adding that UNHCR stands ready to work closely with the Government to assist and seek durable solutions for refugees and asylum-seekers in the country.

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