15 Jun 2011

Three Sri Lankan asylum seekers' deportations deferred

Jonathan Miller learns that some of the failed Sri Lankan asylum seekers may not be deported by the UK on Thursday after all.

Three of the 40 failed Sri Lankan asylum-seekers, scheduled to be forcibly removed from Gatwick to Colombo tomorrow, have had their deportations deferred.

One of these cases, that of a young Tamil woman, was the subject of a judicial review – and the judge found in her favour. The other two deferrals are the result of a Home Office review, unprompted by any legal requirement to do so.

Channel 4 News understands that several other applications for judicial review are to be lodged on Thursday morning – just hours before the removal flight, a chartered Airbus A330 is due to take off for Sri Lanka. We have obtained a Government document confirming the intention to get the flight airborne by 5pm tomorrow night.

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. It had been in the possession of the UK Border Agency because it was part of her original asylum application.

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 Channel 4 News on the Sri Lanka Civil War

I met one of those seeking judicial review in an Immigration Removal Centre at Harmondsworth near Heathrow on Tuesday. He claimed he had been asked to take a sealed envelope to the Sri Lankan High Commission in London and was told it contained information confirming his nationality.

He told me that at the High Commission, this envelope was opened and its contents photocopied and that they included his original asylum application. The Home Office later denied that any incriminating information would ever be passed over in this manner.

But this has happened before. We have learned that a Tamil deported from the UK in the past was sent back with an envelope which he was told not to open. It turned out to contain an incriminating photograph of the man concerned standing with his brother who was dressed in the uniform of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.

Watch the Channel 4 documentary: Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields

The man was abducted, blindfolded, beaten, tortured and detained on arrival in Sri Lanka. He later managed to get back to Britain and claimed asylum again on the basis of what had happened. An immigration judge believed his story and granted him leave to remain. I spoke to the man yesterday.

It is now possible, with tomorrow’s planned removal flight, that the entire flight may be grounded owing to concerns that others among the 40 to be removed have experienced similar problems. Lawyers say there is what they call a “systematic” problem at the Home Office and in this instance, they claim, it could be deemed sufficiently of concern to warrant mass-deferral.

Channel 4 News has obtained a letter from the Home Office’s solicitors to the Royal Courts of Justice regarding tomorrow’s flight. It quotes country guidance which states that: “Tamils are not per se at risk of serious harm from the Sri Lankan authorities in Colombo. A number of factors may increase the risk…”

It goes on to detail these risk factors, which include “return from London” and “having made an asylum claim abroad.” Because those being removed from Britain tomorrow arrive back on a chartered aircraft, it will be well known that they are failed asylum-seekers.

The Home office told us yesterday that: ‚ÄúReturns to Sri Lanka will only be undertaken if we are satisfied that the individual has no protection needs. The improving political and security situation in Sri Lanka has meant it is safe to remove people there.”

The UK Foreign Office report on Human Rights in Sri Lanka, published in April this year, says disappearances and extra-judicial executions still occur in the country, two years after the war ended. It says that the police and the judiciary have been politicised and that impunity rules.

The letter states that the UK Border Agency closely monitors developments in Sri Lanka. The reality is that Britain’s legal liability ends once a failed asylum seeker is back on Sri Lankan soil.

Follow Jonathan Miller on Twitter – @millerC4