16 Jun 2011

Sri Lanka deportations: ‘UK has Tamil blood on its hands’

An MP accuses the Government of “painting targets on the backs” of Sri Lankan civilians being deported from the UK as Jonathan Miller tracks the fate of the failed asylum seekers.

Following the broadcast of the Channel 4 documentary Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields, MP Siobhain McDonagh has told the Commons the British Government is complicit in the torture of Tamil civilians as it continues to deport many people seeking asylum in the UK.

Speaking in the Commons, the Labour MP accused the Government of “painting targets on the backs” of those they were deporting while the UK Border Agency (UKBA) had shared files on Tamil deportees with the Sri Lankan government.

Almost 40 failed asylum seekers are set to be deported back to Sri Lanka on Thursday evening, despite facing arrest and potential torture on their return, the Commons were told.

The MP for Mitcham and Morden said one of her constituents was among those due to leave the UK. Jenach Gopinath, a former Tamil politician, has previously been arrested by the Sri Lankan authorities.

Another asylum seeker facing deportation on Thursday attempted suicide by hanging himself with his duvet in an airport detention facility on Wednesday night, while a passenger on an earlier flight did take his own life.

Amnesty International warned against the deportation of civilians to Sri Lanka, and recognised “cases of returned asylum seekers being tortured”.

‘Blood on our hands’

Ms McDonagh told MPs there is “evidence of continuing abuses against Tamils, including torture and extra-judicial killings.”

“The President of Sri Lanka (Mahinda Rajapaksa), a probable war crimes suspect, has taken on enormous powers over the judiciary and policing,” she said.

“The British Government is supposed to be one of the leading forces in the Commonwealth. Yet it is not only turning a blind eye, it is sending planeload after planeload of Tamils back.”

She added: “The people on these planes, like Mr Gopinath, have identified themselves as Tamil and against the Sri Lankan Government. Britain is flying them on specially chartered flights.

“It’s not like they’re arriving incognito. Even worse, the UK Border Agency has actually shared documents about the passengers with the Sri Lankan authorities.

“We might as well paint targets on their backs. To me, it is obvious that Tamils have reason to fear for their safety in Sri Lanka.

“Given the emergence of yet more evidence of atrocities, how could they be safe?

“I think Parliament needs to say whether we want our country to continue with these miserable deportations, and to continue to have Tamil blood on our hands.”

Ms McDonagh’s comments came after Channel 4 broadcast footage purporting to show the summary execution of prisoners in Sri Lanka in the final days of the bloody civil war.

Sri Lanka deportations: 'UK has Tamil blood on its hands'

The “horrific” footage aired in Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields, shown to the UN Human rights Council in May, depicted extra-judicial killing by government soldier, the shelling of civilian hospitals, and the naked dead bodies of women who appear to have been sexually assaulted.

The film also investigated crimes committed by the Tamil Tiger fighters who used human shields and suicide bombers.

Ms McDonagh’s request for an emergency debate was rejected by Deputy Speaker Lindsay Hoyle.

‘Sharing deportation information’

Channel 4 News learned on Wednesday that three of the 40 failed Sri Lankan asylum seekers have had their deportations deferred.

Foreign Correspondent Jonathan Miller said that a judge had ruled in favour of one of the cases – that of a Tamil woman – who was the subject of a judicial review. The other two deferrals are the result of a Home Office review, unprompted by any legal requirement to do so.

Parliament needs to say whether we want our country to continue with these miserable deportations, and to continue to have Tamil blood on our hands. MP Siobhain McDonagh

“The young woman, whose case will now be reconsidered, had complained that a potentially incriminating document had been passed to officials from the Sri Lankan High Commission in London by the Home Office,” Jonathan Miller reported.

“The Home Office told me that the document concerned, an internal Sri Lankan police memo, had indeed been passed to the Sri Lankans as proof of the woman’s nationality. A spokesman denied, however, that this amounted to a breach of confidentiality as no personal details were contained in the document.

“Channel 4 News has obtained a copy of the document however, and it does appear to contain personal information which her lawyers claim would have placed her in serious danger were she to have been deported.

“The other two deferrals and the pending judicial reviews all relate to similar allegations, that potentially incriminating documentation had been passed to the Sri Lankans.”

Read more from Jonathan Miller on the World News Blog.