Refugee groups urge halt to return of Tamil asylum seekers

The escalating conflict in Sri Lanka has led to a worsening human rights situation Keystone

The Swiss Refugee Council has called on the authorities to suspend the forcible repatriation of asylum seekers to Sri Lanka, because of a drastic deterioration in the human rights situation.

This content was published on July 27, 2000 minutes

The non-governmental organisation warned on Thursday that the ongoing military conflict between the army and Tamil Tiger rebels meant that repatriated asylum seekers could face imprisonment if they returned home.

A spokeswoman for the Refugee Council, an umbrella organisation for several charities and aid groups, told swissinfo of at least one incident in Berne when, she alleged, the Swiss authorities used disproportionate force to deport a Sri Lankan woman whose asylum request had been rejected.

In a new report, the Refugee Council said the military conflict in the northeast of Sri Lanka has escalated over the past months. This has led to a worsening of the basic human rights situation in the whole country, according to the council.

Thousands of members of the ethnic Tamil minority in Sri Lanka were apparently detained temporarily. The council also says the situation in the capital, Colombo, has worsened for Tamils who fear pogroms.

Repatriated asylum seekers risk being arrested on their arrival in Sri Lanka, according to the council. They are also said to suffer from the effects of corruption within the local police force.

The NGO says Tamil women are particularly vulnerable and suffer from increasing violence and discrimination. The group also says traumatised returnees often do not have access to care facilities.

The report is in line with similar calls by the human right group, Amnesty International.

The Federal Refugee Office last month said it was closely following the situation, but people were not being sent back to the conflict region in Sri Lanka.

As part of a special humanitarian programme, the Swiss authorities earlier this year decided to grant temporary residence status to about 13,000 people who had applied for asylum in Switzerland before 1993. Among those eligible for the programme are mainly people from Sri Lanka and the former Yugoslavia.

swissinfo with agencies

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