South Asians for Human Rights

Promoting Democracy, Upholding Human Rights

Published in on Aug. 03 :: By Arthur Wamanan and Shailendree Wickrama Adittiya :: 

Despite concerns raised by the United Nations Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCR), 19 Pakistani nationals who sought asylum in Sri Lanka have been repatriated by local officials without informing the UNHCR.

In addition, Sri Lanka had also sent back five Afghan nationals who had also sought asylum in Sri Lanka.

According to Immigration Controller, Chulananda Perera, nine Pakistanis were sent back on Friday (1) and 10 were sent yesterday. To the knowledge of the UNHCR, there are 214 refugees in detention, of which 143 are from Pakistan and 71 from Afghanistan. The UNHCR has also facilitated the release of four refugees from the original seven arrested and detained. Five individuals are also being returned to Afghanistan by the Immigration and Emigration Department.

However, the UNHCR has stated that Sri Lanka could be held in breach of the principle of non-refoulement under international customary law, which prohibits sending asylum-seekers or refugees to places where their lives and freedoms would be in danger.

The UNHCR in a statement released yesterday expressed concern over the deportation of Pakistani asylum seekers and called upon the Government to uphold its responsibilities under international law.

UNHCR Executive Assistant Dushanthi Fernando told The Nation that Sri Lanka was not a signatory of the 1951 Refugee Convention. She however stated that sending the refugees from Pakistan and Afghanistan back to their countries would put their freedom and lives in danger.

“Though not a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention, Sri Lanka is bound to observe and respect the principle of non-refoluement under international customary law, which prohibits sending asylum-seekers or refugees to places where their lives and freedoms would be in danger,” she said.

Fernando also said that while the UNHCR has not been officially notified of the exact reasons behind these targeted attacks, they are “working closely with the Government of Sri Lanka in a constructive manner,” and believe that together a ‘sustainable solution that is on par with international refugee protection standards and norms’ will be found.

UNHCR has met with both External Affairs Ministry and Defense and Urban Development Ministry. “On a daily basis, UNHCR follows up with the related stakeholders (External Affairs Ministry, Defense and Urban Development Ministry, Immigration and Emigration Department) to advocate for the early release of those detained,” Fernando commented.

When questioned by The Nation, the High Commission of Pakistan in Sri Lanka said it “has no official intimation about the arrest or repatriation of any Pakistani national by the Sri Lankan authorities.” However, Press Attache of Pakistan in Sri Lanka, Muhammad Daud Ehtisham said, “The Sri Lankan Foreign Secretary is going to Islamabad for regular political consultations during the first week of August, if required, the issue of asylum seekers will be discussed between the two governments.”