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NGOs want action on Sri Lankan asylum seekers

Activists delivered more than 25,000 signatures to the Parliament building Keystone

A non-governmental organisation-sponsored petition signed by more than 25,000 people has called on the Swiss government to do more to protect Sri Lankan asylum seekers in Switzerland.

The petition, which also demanded that the government become more involved in human rights issues in Sri Lanka, was handed in to the Federal Chancellery on Thursday.

The handing in comes a day before a Commonwealth summit is due to start in the Sri Lankan capital Colombo, the run-up to which has been overshadowed by a row over human rights.

The three NGOs behind the petition – Amnesty International, the Swiss Refugee Council and the Society for Threatened Peoples – said in a statement that their campaign on behalf of Sri Lankan asylum seekers was already starting to have an effect.

They pointed to the fact that the deportation of rejected Tamil asylum seekers to Sri Lanka had been temporarily suspended since the end of August. This followed reports of the arrests of two Tamil deportees once they arrived back in Sri Lanka and international criticism of the military’s increasing influence on the country’s leadership.

In October, the Federal Office for Migration said that it recognised that the two Tamils might have been the victims of “shortcomings” in the processing of their asylum requests. The Sri Lankan authorities had accused the men of taking part in activities “in the service of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE)”.

The migration office has now asked the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to review the process that led to the men’s repatriation. It is also reviewing the applications of other rejected Sri Lankan asylum seekers.

Not just a holiday destination

“Sri Lanka has caught the attention of the public and the political world in Switzerland – not just as an exotic holiday island, but as a country in which human rights violations are commonplace,” the NGOs’ statement said.

However, the statement added that a temporary suspension was not enough; the whole repatriation process to Sri Lanka should be reconsidered.

On Thursday, Sri Lankan president Mahinda Rajapaksa hit back at critics of his government’s human rights record.

Rajapaksa said a system was in place to deal with rights violations, amid allegations of abuse four years after a civil war against Tamil rebels ended.

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR