United Nations slams Sri Lanka for early deportation of asylum seekers
The UN's refugee agency has accused Sri Lanka of failing to respect international law by deporting Afghan and Pakistan refugees before their asylum claims could be assessed.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said Sri Lankan authorities arrested 214 Afghan and Pakistani nationals in an operation beginning on June 9.
Eighteen Pakistani asylum seekers had already been deported with 10 more facing imminent expulsion, in violation of Sri Lanka's international obligations, the UNHCR said. "The UNHCR is dismayed by these actions of the government of Sri Lanka," the statement said. "The deportation goes against the principle of no forced return, or non-refoulement, enshrined in international customary law."
The agency added that returning an individual to a country where they would face a risk of torture was also prohibited under the UN's Convention Against Torture.
Hundreds of Pakistani Christians and Afghans fleeing persecution in their countries have been arriving in Sri Lanka seeking UNHCR protection in Colombo.
Sri Lanka defended the action taken, saying that a state's responsibility to international obligations had to be "nuanced and balanced in the context of domestic compulsions".
Sri Lanka's external affairs ministry also accused the UNHCR of processing asylum claims too slowly and of not taking responsibility for repatriating those whose refugee claims were rejected.
"It may be noted that in some cases, resettlement applications have been pending for over five years," the ministry said.
The ministry added there had been a dramatic increase in the number of Pakistani and Afghan asylum seekers arriving on the South Asian island in the past year. As of the end of June, there were 1,562 asylum seekers and 308 listed as refugees.
The influx of asylum seekers had led to "serious law and order, security, as well as health-related issues for the authorities".