The Federal Office for Migration has recognised that two Tamils deported to Sri Lanka who were taken into custody upon their arrival in Colombo may have been victims of “shortcomings” in the processing of their asylum requests.
The Migration Office admitted on Thursday that the asylum procedure, which is supposed to determine if a person is at risk in their homeland, might not have been as thorough as it should have been. However, the office said in statement that the authorities rely on asylum seekers “to declare all the relevant facts related to their situation”.
The Sri Lankan authorities have accused the two men, still in custody, of taking part in activities “in the service of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE)”. The Migration Office turned down their asylum applications in 2011, a decision that was confirmed later by the Federal Administrative Court.
Under a bilateral agreement on returnees dating back to 1994, Swiss representatives will be able to visit the two men in prison, mainly to assess their state of health.
The Migration Office has asked an external body, the office of the United Nations’ High Commissioner for Refugees, to review the process that led to the repatriation decision for the two men. It will also review the applications of other people still in Switzerland that have been rejected and could expect to be sent back to Sri Lanka.
Deportations of rejected Tamil asylum seekers to Sri Lanka were temporarily suspended at the end of August following reports of the arrests and international criticism of the military’s increasing influence on the country’s leadership.
The move was made to avoid further arrests of Tamils upon their return from Switzerland. The decision will remain in effect until the reasons why the two men were arrested are made clear and the situation improves in Sri Lanka.
The temporary suspension of deportations has failed to satisfy human rights organisations so far, and they have demanded that negotiations for a readmission accord between Switzerland and Sri Lanka be called off.
In a statement, Amnesty International’s Swiss section said it was surprised by the Migration Office’s explanations. “Why is Switzerland parroting the Sri Lankan line?” it added.
For Amnesty, chances are that Sri Lankan citizens from the north of the country will be suspected of helping the Tamil Tigers, especially if they return from Switzerland, which is often considered one of the movement’s strongholds.
The human rights organisation pointed out that if the two men belonged to the LTTE, they should have never been deported as it was obvious they risked being arrested and tortured upon their return. If necessary, the Swiss authorities could have launched a criminal investigation against them.
Amnesty said it was satisfied though that the Migration Office has chosen independent body to review the two men’s asylum applications and those of others facing deportation.
Sri Lankan asylum seekers have been sent back home since 2011. Up until the suspension of the repatriation procedures, 153 people had been sent back, voluntarily or not.
In compliance with the JTI standards