Returnees At Risk: Detention and Torture in Sri Lanka

By Together Against Genocide (TAG, formerly Tamils Against Genocide), Sunday, September 16 2012

This report calls for a comprehensive re-evaluation of the UK government’s current policy towards asylum applicants of Sri Lankan Tamil origin in light of the significance of the collection of 27 recent asylum appeal determinations published and analyzed here. We understand this collection, exclusively shared with TAG, to be the largest such collection yet to be analyzed and made public by an independent third party. The appeals determinations are particularly valuable as 26 of the 27 claims of egregious torture have succeeded and been found to be credible under the most stringent adversarial review. They provide us with the benefit of a valuable collection of judicial opinion. This dataset is supplemented by other datasets including a further 11 asylum interviews by the UK Border Agency, also exclusively provided to TAG and a further set of 21 Medico-legal reports [MLRs] drawn up in the UK by leading UK experts.  All the above cases relate to detention and torture that took place in the period 2010-2012 although some cases make mention of previous [pre-2010] episodes of torture.

Our research on the context surrounding the torture of returnees to Sri Lanka draws from credible secondary sources and primary data in the form of interviews by our consultant. We observe that post-2009 new factors impacting the political repression of Tamils returning from abroad have emerged that were not foreseen in the analysis of TK and the existing body of country guidance. These include a post-2009 upsurge in Singhalese nationalism and in anti-Western and anti-British rhetoric, as noted by the Foreign Office in 2012[1]. There has also been  a noticeable increase in hostility towards local and international critics of the Sri Lankan government’s alleged committing of mass atrocities during the final phases of the conflict.
We consider that a period of residence in the UK or other ‘Western’ country may itself constitute a risk factor. We contend the LP/TK risk factor of ‘a previous record as an actual or suspected LTTE member’ has been superseded in importance in the case of persons returning from abroad by a new risk factor, namely ‘a record of criticizing or protesting against the Sri Lankan government’. Similarly the risk factor ‘return from a ‘centre of LTTE activity or fund-raising’ should be refined to refer to ‘return from a country whose government or media have been critical of the Sri Lankan government and/or have called for progress towards accountability and reform.’  We consider that in the eyes of the Sri Lankan authorities these two types of risk factors may well overlap, yet argue that UK country guidance needs to maintain a distinction.

[TAG's full report may be found here]

[1] Foreign Office Travel Advice on Sri Lanka, 23 August 2012