This report included a range of human rights allegations in various areas including freedom of press to forced disappearances. However, rather than focussing on he array of alleged egregious violations, the Mirror ran with the purported lack of evidence surrounding the mistreatment of failed asylum returnees from the UK. The headline news on the Mirror website on Monday night read (as a statement of fact): ‘No evidence of returnees abused-UK’.
The issue of asylum returns remains highly controversial in the UK. Leading international NGOs including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and Freedom from Torture continue to vehemently oppose the repatriation of failed asylum seekers to Sri Lanka. A statement made by Human Rights watch in February this year argued that:
“(There is an) international legal obligation not to deport people who have a credible fear of torture upon return. Convincing reports of arbitrary arrests and torture demand that the UK government suspend returns of rejected Tamil asylum seekers to Sri Lanka”
Both the Sri Lankan and UK government have frequently dismissed such reports as ‘unsubstantiated’. However, It must also be recognised that, unlike most other areas in the report, it is in the direct interest of the UK government to downplay human rights violations in the field of asylum returns. Any admission of potential abuses in this area would make the UK themselves complicit in such violations. Such an admission would undermine the UKs own asylum policy and leave them open to accusations of refoulement- to render a victim of persecution to their persecutor-the cardinal sin of international refugee law.
Moreover, the UK Border agency, the primary source of this information, have their own agenda at play. UKBA are given strict removal targets and are expected to meet these targets, regardless of the protection needs of Asylum Seekers. It is clearly in the interests of UKBA therefore to deny any wrongdoing on the part of the GoSL.
It is true that many of the claims of human rights abuses made by returnees remain unverified. With no monitoring process in place for returnees, verification will always be an issue. However, to claim that there is ‘No evidence’ of abuse is a simple falsehood.
This is no time for self-congratulation. Lets have a bit of honesty. Let us not stare so much at the silver lining that we miss the foreboding rain-clouds above.