British deportations continue as hunger strikers weaken
[TamilNet, Friday, 27 July 2007, 12:45 GMT]
The health of several of the dozens of Tamil asylum seekers on hunger strike at British detention centers is deteriorating rapidly with some being rushed to hospital, detainees and lawyers said Friday. However, enforced deportations from the centers are continuing regardless of the now weeklong protest, they said. Pointing out that Britain has cautioned her citizens against traveling to Sri Lanka, the hunger strikers want the authorities to halt forcible returns of asylum applicants. They also want Tamils to be taken off Britain’s asylum processing ‘fast track’ so as to allow sufficient time for appeals against deportations to be conducted.
A hunger strike against enforced removal to Sri Lanka begun earlier this month by Tamil asylum seekers at one British holding centre has spread to other locations.
There have been isolated protests, but not on this scale.
At least one asylum seeker has attempted suicide.
The first recent hunger strike began on July 9 when two Tamils at one location refused to eat unless deportations are stopped.
But there are over seventy people on hunger strike now at seven locations.
28 people are on hunger strike at the Harmonsworth Immigration Removal Centre in London along with 23 others at Oakington in Cambridgeshire and 10 at Haslar, Hampshire.
Small groups of Tamils are on hunger strike at other locations, detainees say.
Pointing out that Britain has cautioned her citizens against traveling to Sri Lanka, the hunger strikers and immigration lawyers want authorities to halt the forcible deportations of asylum applicants to Sri Lanka.
The protestors also want Tamil applicants to be taken off Britain’s asylum processing ‘fast track’ so as to allow sufficient time for appeals against deportations to be conducted.
They cite the cases of several Tamils who had either been arrested or ‘disappeared’ after being forcibly deported.
One youth, Sivaruben, who was deported on July 18, was arrested at Colombo airport. His parents are being refused access to the prison.
Sivaruben’s case spurred other inmates at Harmonsworth to join Tamil protestors elsewhere on hunger strike.
Two other Tamils deported recently are known to gone missing from their residences in Colombo within weeks of arriving back in Sri Lanka, inmates quoted relatives there as saying.
Inmates say the fate of several others is unknown as they (inmates) do not know their relatives to contact.
Despite the hunger strikes, the deportations from Britain are continuing, protestors and immigration lawyers said Friday.
People are being taken to planes in handcuffs screaming, an inmate on hunger strike told TamilNet Friday. Three people from one location were deported last week.
One Tamil man seeking asylum was deported Thursday, even though his wife and 4 year old child are in UK (not in detention), others said.
Several others are being prepared for deportation as scheduled and have been told to make arrangements with their lawyers.
At one location, Harmonsworth, immigration offices have warned asylum seekers they would be put on planes regardless of their protest.
“They tell as we will be sent back regardless of whether we eat or not,” an inmate at Oakington Reception Centre said.
“The doctors who check our health are also telling us to give up and return to Sri Lanka,” he said.
“There is simply no human sympathy in these places,” he said. “We are kept like criminals. What have we done wrong in this country to be locked up like this?”
At another location, Haslar, the immigration officers are simply ignoring the hunger strikers, inmates said.
Doctors are checking the protestors’ condition and urging them to abandon their protest and return peaceably.
“Many of us have been held here for a long time. They won’t tell us the status of our applications, but we are locked up,” one inmate said.
“Sometimes we get letters about our cases that won’t make clear what will happen to us. They refuse appeal after appeal, telling us all the time we will soon be sent back.”
“We are in a constant state of tension and anxiety. It is a form of mental torture,” he said.
One youth, Sujeevan, attempted suicide this week soon after receiving his latest monthly status report, fellow inmates said. He was taken to hospital and is being held in isolation, they said.
They said following weeks of anxiety, the report simply didn’t indicate whether he would be sent back or allowed to remain.
Protestors interviewed by local media say they are seeking asylum in UK to escape the killings and human rights abuses in Sri Lanka that Britain and other Western countries have condemned.
Pointing out that Britain is amongst the countries that have recently cut aid to Sri Lanka in protest at rights abuses by the security forces, the asylum seekers say they are seeking sanctuary in Britain only until the island’s conflict is resolved.
“We are not fortune seekers. Tamils are being killed every day there. We will definitely go back home if there is peace, we want to be allowed to stay till it is safe,” one asylum seeker told local radio.
The Tamil Lawyers’ Association (UK) has urged the British authorities “to suspend all deportations of Tamil asylum seekers to Sri Lanka and give primacy to safety of asylum seekers.”
In a press release issued this week, the Association pointed out that Britain has cautioned against travel to Sri Lanka.
The Association also quoted the United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, as urging that all asylum claims of Tamils from the North or East should be favourably considered.
They also cite the UNHCR as arguing that where the individual does not fulfil the refugee criteria under the 1951 Convention, “a complementary form of protection should be granted in light of the prevailing situation of armed conflict and generalised violence in the north and east.”
Meanwhile the protestors say they will continue their hunger strike until the Home Office (Britain’s Interior Ministry) changes its policy on ‘fast tracking’ and deporting Tamils to Sri Lanka.
“Those of us in here will not give up our hunger strike,” an inmate at Harmonsworth said.
“People who return [to Sri Lanka] are being killed like animals there, they are being killed on the roadside. It is better to die with dignity here.”