At least a dozen Sri Lankan asylum seekers have been forcibly deported back to Sri Lanka, having been put on a specially chartered jet that left Perth on Tuesday, the Guardian Australia reported.
Some of the men deported had been in detention for more than six years in Australia, while others still had challenges before Australian courts pending. The majority were Tamil, but at least one was Sinhalese.
Guardian Australia has been provided with details of some of those returned but has chosen not to name them out of concern for their safety. Several had reported to Australian authorities they had previously been abducted and tortured by security forces in Sri Lanka.
The asylum seekers were transported from detention centres across Australia and taken to Perth, from where they were flown out on a charter flight run by Skytraders. The flight left at 1.57am.
The group landed in Colombo on Tuesday but has not made contact with family or legal representatives. Returned asylum seekers are, without previous exception, interviewed, arrested and charged by Sri Lanka police on arrival.
Human rights groups and legal advocates have serious concerns over the safety of returned asylum seekers.
The United Nations rapporteur on countering terrorism wrote in a report in July that Sri Lanka’s progress towards peace had “virtually ground to a halt”, and that he heard evidence of “very brutal and cruel methods of torture, including beatings with sticks, the use of stress positions, asphyxiation using plastic bags drenched in kerosene, pulling out of fingernails”.
With airlines under pressure globally over their role in forced deportations, the Australian government is increasingly using charter flights to deport asylum seekers it has judged not to meet its protection obligations.
The Department of Home Affairs recently awarded Skytrader a three-year $63m tender, to begin in December, providing “a dedicated airframe to meet operational demands for the movement of high-risk persons and departmental staff between on-shore and offshore locations”.
The tender, to follow on from an existing $144m contract, stresses the “variable, discreet and confidential nature of ABF’s operations” and says the department needs to take “long-range, multisector flights with limited notice”.
The issue of corporate cooperation in forced removals came to renewed international attention last month when Swedish student Elin Ersson refused to sit down on a plane at Gothenburg airport, protesting that an Afghan man was being deported “to hell”. She succeeded, and the man was removed from the plane.
Similar protests have been staged in Australia, resulting, in some cases, in criminal charges laid against protesters.
The Australian government does not comment on the specific cases but has consistently defended its removal processes, saying it adheres strictly to international law.
“Australia does not remove people to Sri Lanka who engage Australia’s non-refoulement obligations,” a spokesperson said. “Australia takes its non-refoulement obligations seriously.”