Right groups ask Australia to stop forced returns of Sri Lankan asylum seekers

Saturday, 13 December 2014 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Sydney: Human right groups, marking the International Human Rights Day today, urged the Australian government to stop returning Sri Lankan asylum seekers back to Sri Lanka until they have a fair hearing on their asylum claims. The Amnesty International, the Human Rights Law Centre, and the Human Rights Watch said today the asylum seekers may be at risk of torture in Sri Lanka and they should not be returned until they are provided a ‘fair, thorough, and transparent’ processing of their protection claims. Noting that the Australian authorities on 29 November turned over to Sri Lankan authorities a boat carrying 37 asylum seekers, the right watchdogs asked the foreign governments to publicly call on the Sri Lankan authorities to immediately release any of the 37 returnees arbitrarily detained. The governments should urge Australian diplomats in Sri Lanka to closely monitor the treatment of the 37 so that none are mistreated or face retaliation for their irregular departure, they said. “This case highlights the failures of Australia’s ‘enhanced screening’ procedures for Sri Lankans fleeing persecution by boat,” said Graham Thom, refugee coordinator at Amnesty International Australia. “The flawed procedures, including a handful of questions conducted at sea, offer only minimal opportunity to highlight torture, rape, or other persecution.” The right groups accuse the Sri Lankan authorities of torture and rape of returning asylum seekers, charges the Sri Lankan government vehemently denies. “Australia shouldn’t ignore the well-documented and politically motivated torture, rape, and ill-treatment of many men and women detained by Sri Lankan security forces,” Elaine Pearson, Australia director at Human Rights Watch said. The Australian as well as Sri Lankan authorities say there is no evidence of torture or rape on returning asylum seekers maintaining that they are economic refugees and not persecuted for their political affiliations as claimed. Australia violated its obligations under international law by sending the 37 asylum seekers back to Sri Lanka, without properly assessing their protection claims, the organisations said. The Sri Lankan government should ensure the safety of all the returned asylum seekers, the groups said.