Active Charter Flight Routes

Minister denies torture of Tamils deported from Britain – New Internationalist

Minister denies torture of Tamils deported from Britain – New Internationalist

A British Foreign Office Minister has refuted medical evidence obtained by Human Rights Watch that Sri Lanka is torturing Tamils after they are deported from Britain back to the Indian Ocean island. During his most recent ministerial trip to Sri Lanka’s capital, Colombo, on 1 February, Alistair Burt MP said ‘the UK has no direct evidence’ of the torture – contrary to the accusations of human rights activists.

To continue reading the article on the New Internationalist Blog, click here

Alistair Burt and High Commissioner John Rankin recorded a video in front of the wrecked MV Farah III, during the Minister's latest trip to Sri Lanka

Alistair Burt and British High Commissioner John Rankin recorded a video in front of the wrecked MV Farah III, during the Minister’s latest trip to Sri Lanka. (Photo: FCO)

Student remembrance triggers Tamil rebirth

Student remembrance triggers Tamil rebirth

Andy Higginbottom and Phil Miller|Open Security|8th January 2012

Strong geostrategic interests in the Indian Ocean may tacitly have condemned the Tamils of Sri Lanka to death on a massive scale in the 2009 aerial bombing of civilans, and ensuing post-war government repression. Recent social movement action in Jaffna shows a groundswell of resistance, but will the world take notice?

On 27 November, students at Jaffna University lit a lamp in the womens’ dormitory. Their simple act of commemoration unwittingly sparked events that have unfolded into the most significant confrontation with the Sri Lankan state since the massacre of Tamils in May 2009.

To continue reading, click here

2012: A Year (or more!) of Resistance Against Deportations to Sri Lanka

2012: A Year (or more!) of Resistance Against Deportations to Sri Lanka

 June 2011: The UK Border Agency (UKBA) start deporting groups of people back to Sri Lanka on specially chartered flights, something they have not done since April 2009. Channel 4 broadcast their ‘Killing Fields’ documentary exposing new war crimes and MP Siobhain McDonagh accuses the Government of “painting targets on the backs” of Tamils being deported from the UK. It emerges the UKBA have even shared files on Tamil deportees with the Sri Lankan government. 25 men and 1 woman are deported[1] on this first in a series of ‘charter flights’.

The 2nd charter flight from London to Colombo went on 28th September 2011 – 42 men and 8 women deported.

November 2011: Medical charity Freedom From Torture publish ‘Out of the Silence‘ – a report into the ongoing torture of Tamils in Sri Lanka.

15th December 2011: Dozens of protesters block the exit roads to Colnbrook & Harmondsworth Detention Centres, disrupting the transfer of detainees to the third specially chartered deportation flight. Riot vans and a police helicopter are mobilised to clear the protesters and escort the deportation coach to the airport. 48 men and 7 women are deported to Sri Lanka, 5 protesters arrested…

* * * * *

January 2012: The Crown Prosecution Service drop all charges against the 2 men and 3 women who were arrested last month for blocking the deportation bus!

The 4th charter flight from Britain to Sri Lanka went on 28th February 2012, deporting 44 men and 8 women. Human Rights Watch produce evidence that 8 Tamil deportees have already been tortured on return and call on UK to suspend deportations.

March 2012:  Channel 4 broadcast ‘Killing Fields: War Crimes Unpunished’ follow up documentary

31st May 2012: Friends and family of a Tamil deportee sit in front of a deportation bus outside Colnbrook Detention Centre to delay the 5th charter flight to Sri Lanka. Police dogs and a firearms unit try to intimidate the 12 protesters but they refuse to move! After half an hour 2 men and 2 women are arrested for blocking the road. Their delay secured extra time for Barristers to win injunctions from the High Court, which cancelled the deportation of about 40 people. One gentleman was already seated aboard the aircraft with the engine running when news came through that his removal was stopped! But 35 men and 1 woman were still deported on that flight.

June 2012: Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa visits London, but massive protests by Tamil community cause him to cancel important business meetings.

July 2012: Tamil youth activist Gobi Sivanthan starts a hunger strike during the Olympics. His 5 demands include an end to the deportations of Tamils from Britain to Sri Lanka. Stop Deportations blog publishes its’ investigation into Britain’s ex-Defence Minster Liam Fox and his secret role in starting this wave of deportations to Sri Lanka,  highlighting his business links with the Rajapaksa regime. The Australian government follows Britain’s example and carries out their first forced deportation of a Tamil (Dayan Anthony) for several years.

August 2012: Crown Prosecution Service drop all charges against the protesters who blocked the bus back in May!

19th September 2012: Activists from No Borders ambush a deportation coach outside Colnbrook Detention Centre. One man dives under the bus and chains his neck to the axle. The coach is delayed for several hours before police cut away the man underneath. The extra time helps lawyers to win injunctions from the High Court, which cancelled the deportation of dozens of people booked on the 6th chartered plane to Sri Lanka. Still, the BBC report that 25 people are deported on the flight.

23rd October 2012: Campaigners call for a public protest outside Colnbrook and Harmondsworth Detention Centres on the day of the Government’s 7th mass deportation flight to Sri Lanka. Thousands of leaflets are distributed and activists speak on TV to raise awareness. The Border Agency panic and rush people secretly to the airport the night before. Dozens still manage to get their tickets cancelled, although the Sri Lankan Ministry of Defence boast that 28 asylum-seekers were deported back to Colombo.

November 2012: A group of Tamils deported from Australia are arrested on arrival in Colombo.

Crown Prosecution Service drop all charges against the man arrested for blocking the bus back in September!

6th December 2012: The 8th deportation charter flight takes off from Britain for Sri Lanka – unconfirmed reports say  25 Tamils are deported. Tamil youth organisations across the diaspora rally against the detention of university students and academics in Jaffna by the Sri Lankan Army.

The struggle continues…we look forward to campaigning with you again in the New Year!


[1]             Deportation statistics from June 2011-2012 are from Freedom of Information requests

6th December 2012 – UKBA mass deportation to Sri Lanka

6th December 2012 – UKBA mass deportation to Sri Lanka

On 6th December 2012, the UK Border Agency went ahead with another mass deportation to Sri Lanka. Unconfirmed reports say that 29 people were removed in toal, and that 25 of them were Tamil.

At 0930 on the morning of the flight, campaigners monitored the arrival of 3 coaches to the Colnbrook and Harmondsworth Immigration Removal Centres by Heathrow. Two of the coaches were from the notorious deportation profiteer WH Tours and the third coach was unmarked. Reliance vans also escorted the coaches. All these vehicles are believed to be connected with the deportation to Sri Lanka that afternoon.

Media coverage of this deportation was extremely limitted. However, Open Democracy and Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka reposted the news article from this blog. Freedom from Torture published a press release highlighting how the UN Committee Against Torture and two Parliamentary Select Committees have recently criticed the British Government’s deportation program to Sri Lanka.

Another mass expulsion to Sri Lanka

More UK Complicity in Torture

[Phil Miller, Stop Deportations Blog, 3/12/12]

The UK Border Agency have planned another deportation charter flight to Sri Lanka for this Thursday 6th December 2012 at 1600hrs.

Visit Sri Lanka - poster

Here is a possible advert for their flights. Click to view full image

Despite public controversy, these mass expulsions to Sri Lanka are actually becoming more frequent. There are now charter deportation flights from London to Colombo departing on an almost monthly basis. Since mid-2012, the Australian government have followed Britain’s example, with planes full of ‘failed’ Tamil asylum seekers taking off from Christmas Island. Media reports [1|2] claim that dozens of refugees deported from Australia in November where arrested on arrival in Sri Lanka.

Last month I asked Yasmin Sooka, who is a member of the UN Secretary-General’s Panel of Experts on Accountability in Sri Lanka, if she was concerned by the deportation of Tamils to Sri Lanka from Commonwealth States such as Britain and Australia. She responded, in a personal capacity, that these governments are “sending people back to be killed and tortured” [3].

Since December 2011, activists in London have attempted three times to physically block the buses which transfer Tamils from the detention centre to the deportation flight. Their actions have caused delays and given Barristers more time to get removal directions cancelled. Although these protests have resulted in 10 arrests, the Crown Prosecution Service have repeatedly dropped all charges, days before activists were due in court [4]. Is this to avoid further disclosure of the Government’s complicity in torture?

The British Ministry of Defence are still refusing to answer a Freedom of Information request [5] about whether Liam Fox’s fixer, Adam Werritty, visited Sri Lanka shortly before the deportation charter flights began in June 2011. A complaint to the Information Commissioner has been made.

The UK Border Agency Country of Origin Information Service (COIS) have admitted in response to a Freedom of Information request [6] that they do not know the identity of a source they cited in their July 2011 Country of Origin report on Sri Lanka. This ‘Colombo based human rights worker’ claimed it “was well known that many persons who were held in IDP camps at the end of the conflict scarred themselves so that on release they could make allegations that the Sri Lankan government had tortured them”.

And so the complicity and cover-up continues…

LINKS:

[1] 32 Australian deportees arrested at BIA, http://www.lankasrinews.com/view.php?2bAAlv4a2LfYce424mM0c22aAmB23d2PBAce0d6MAYce0eA5V0c23XO4d2

[2] Deported asylum seekers jailed, http://www.thesundayleader.lk/2012/11/08/deported-asylum-seekers-jailed/

[3] Towards truth, justice and a political solution in Sri Lanka: Session 2, response at 56:35. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fQ5SlVRclZo

[4] For example, see Bindman’s press release: Case discontinued in protest against Tamil deportation. http://www.bindmans.com/news-and-events/news-article/case-discontinued-in-protest-against-tamil-deportation

[5] Dr. Fox’s staff in Sri Lanka June 2011 http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/dr_foxs_staff_in_sri_lanka_june#outgoing-232609

[6] Correspondence between UKBA COI Service and British HC in Colombo http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/correspondence_between_ukba_coi#incoming-333296

How charter flights jettison human rights

How charter flights jettison human rights

Last week’s deportation of the Saleh family to Egypt and the acceleration of returns to Sri Lanka expose how UKBA routinely hire private jets to avoid due process, leaving a trail of shattered lives in their wake.

After the controversial mass deportation of Tamils to Sri Lanka on September 19th, many hoped the UKBA would reduce their program of chartered flights to the island. The opposite happened: UKBA hired yet another deportation jet for October 23rd, two months earlier than anticipated. To justify their bold move, the UKBA issued a new Country Policy Bulletin on Sri Lanka. The Bulletin slandered the pain-staking work of Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, Freedom From Torture and Tamils Against Genocide, who had compiled a formidable dossier of evidence to show many Tamils deported to Sri Lanka are being tortured. The UKBA’s Bulletin repeatedly dismissed the evidence presented by these NGO’s, because the latter refused to disclose their clients’ names to the Agency. The NGOs’ reluctance violate the victims’ anonymity is hardly surprising given the UKBA’s tendency to accidentally(?) share asylum-seekers’ files with the Sri Lankan government.

The NGO’s protested that their reports had been misquoted in the UKBA’s bulletin. On the morning of the flight, the UKBA’s solicitors sent a letter [download] to the court, which suddenly retracted the most inaccurate sections in the Bulletin. The Immigration Law Practitioners Association (ILPA) immediately published a response, complaining that:

“The letter was sent at 11.22 am; four hours and eight minutes before the flight was scheduled to leave, at 15.30 hours. The letter draw attention to errors in the UK Border Agency information about Sri Lanka which go directly to the question of the safety of that country for those facing return. That information has been in existence since at least 17 October 2012 when reference was made to it in a letter giving notice of the charter flight. The letter is not marked urgent and the only request made of Mr Magee is that it be out before judges ‘at your earliest convenience’.”

This fiasco must be viewed alongside the July 2011 version of UKBA’s Country of Origin Information on Sri Lanka. This report included evidence from an unnamed “Colombo based human rights worker”, who alleged that “it was well known that many persons who were held in IDP camps at the end of the conflict scarred themselves so that on release they could make allegations that the Sri Lankan government had tortured them”. This comparison reveals the blatant double standards with UKBA’s verification of torture: the government accepts evidence from an anonymous human rights worker and yet dismisses evidence from named NGO’s.

The UKBA’s contempt of court also shows how charter flights are their preferred vehicle for getting away with such hypocrisy. Once the plane is hired, everything is geared towards filling the flight, regardless of people’s rights. A question that must be asked is: why don’t UKBA just stop chartering these flights?

Then again, there is clearly a bigger agenda at work here. The only government department (British or Sri Lankan) to report on the fate of the latest Tamil charter flight was the Sri Lankan Ministry of Defence – leaving us to ask what is their interest in this process? Their press release boasted that “The British Foreign Office in last March told the BBC that they send people back to Sri Lanka only when the British government and the courts are satisfied that an individual does not need protection. The Foreign Office has said there had been no substantiated allegations of mistreatment of those returned from the UK”. The Sri Lankan Defence Minister, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, faces credible accusations of genocide. So yet again we see how these charter flights provide a fig leaf of international legitimacy for a genocidal regime, (a regime which has the patronage of several senior British conservative politicians like Liam Fox).

Saleh family’s deportation to Egypt

Late in the night of the 23rd October, UKBA again strong-armed the Courts, this time because they had hired an entire aircraft to deport a mother and two of her children to Egypt. Activists from South Wales No Borders report that:

“An injunction had been passed to stop the Saleh family’s deportation but after a phone call from the UKBA explaining that the Border Agency had spent £60,000 on chartering a plane to deport the family, Judge Eady had reversed his decision and cancelled the injunction”.

The Saleh family’s deportation by private jet appears to be the second case since Cedars opened last summer. Medical Justice have warned that “the 7-day limit on [child] detention may mean UKBA resort to use increasingly non-standard methods to remove the family (e.g hiring a private plane)”.

Far from ending the detention of children, the government have now extended the scope of deportation charter flights to target single parents and their children who dare to claim asylum. And the judiciary is powerless to hold them to account because the executive (i.e. UKBA) have squandered a lot of tax payer money on an unnecessary and immoral program. So much for the separation of powers, that supposed cornerstone of liberal democracy.

Need for more documentation to support action

The UKBA are organising deportation charter flights every week to somewhere in the world. This article highlights some of the injustices from just one week of their decade long program. Detainees and their supporters are heroically resisting charter flights, as these videos show [1], [2]. But the UKBA seem determined to carry on. There is a real need for some time and money to go towards a more longer-term analysis of this Home Office policy, which would collate these everyday abuses and dodgy deals to expose the systematic cover-up of torture and genocide which charter flights facilitate. Such a report could be a tool for a diversity of tactics used to stop deportation.

More Fox hunting needed

The UKBA seem to have outflanked mainstream NGO’s and media outlets by organising another deportation charter flight to Sri Lanka tomorrow, 23rd October, barely a month after the last flight went in September. This is an acceleration of their charter flight program to the island and follows their new Sri Lanka Country Policy Bulletin which slandered the work of Freedom From Torture, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and Tamils Against Genocide.

The point which mainstream media refuses to make is that British foreign policy drives these deportations to Sri Lanka and this overrides the human rights of Tamil asylum-seekers who will be tortured after their deportation, and that this torture serves the interests of certain British politicians and businesses. See my previous article on this blog about Liam Fox’s business interests in Sri Lanka.

This is ironic because even an establishment body, the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, has reported this month how the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) is not being “as energetic as it might in impressing upon the UK Border Agency the degree of risk” faced by Tamil deportees. They further noted that “the Government should also clarify the division between the roles of the FCO and of the UK Border Agency’s Country of Origin Information Service [COIS] in gathering the intelligence needed to make accurate assessments of risk”.  This is clear evidence that the FCO exerts influence over the UKBA. And perhaps it refers to the shocking reference in the July 2011 UKBA COIS report on Sri Lanka where the British High Commission (BHC, an FCO employee) claim they:

“asked the Senior Government Intelligence officials if there was any truth in allegations that the Sri Lankan authorities were torturing suspects. They denied this was the case and added that many Sri Lankans who had claimed asylum abroad had inflicted wounds on themselves in order to create scars to support their stories”.

This scandalous claim was covered by Barrister Shivani Jegarajah on the freemovement blog at the time. But the full content of the letter (not included in the COIS report, but available to download here) reveals that the subject of correspondence between BHC and UKBA COIS is “Sri Lanka: Media Reports Following the Presidents UK Visit in November/December 2010”. This visit is when Mahinda Rajapaksa met Liam Fox and Adam Werritty in the Dorchester Hotel, as featured in the poster above, after the despot’s speech at the Oxford Union was cancelled. The FCO’s response to the UKBA’s request for ‘intelligence’ was morally disgraceful, but strategically consistent with the British Government’s long-term support for the Sri Lankan regime at the expense of Tamil peoples’ rights.

The FCO’s most senior civil servant, Matthew Gould, had numerous meetings with Fox and Werritty, although the government refuse to admit this. Fox’s resignation statement hosted on the Ministry of Defence website accidently (?) refers his dealing with Matthew Gould as Martin Gould, putting the public off the scent of Fox’s and the FCO’s collusion during the times of the most serious massacres of Tamil civilians in 2009, when Matthew Gould toured Sri Lanka in his role as Principal Private Secretary to the Foreign Secretary, just after Fox and Werrity had visited Mahinda Rajapaksa in Colombo to set up the Sri Lankan Development Trust.

French Foreign Minister (and ex-IIGEP member) Kouchner, British Foreign Minister David Miliband, Matthew Gould, Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollogama and President Mahinda Rajapaksa meeting in Colombo, April 2009. Fox and Werrity had visited the regime in Colombo in March 2009.

Myth number 5: The IOM rehabilitates ex-LTTE combatants

IOM Myths Busted

  • Myth number 5: The IOM rehabilitates ex-LTTE combatants

False. The IOM does have expertise in Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration programs. However, the manner in which it treated suspected LTTE cadres after the civil war in Sri Lanka cannot be called ‘rehabilitation’. This is an extremely contentious period so I will focus here on the British Government’s involvement in funding the IOM’s so called reintegration package.

As the civil war drew to a bloody conclusion in 2009, Tamils fled the conflict zone in their hundreds of thousands. There was a humanitarian emergency and the Government effectively ‘interned’ people in IDP camps, where international NGO’s delivered aid programs. The camps were militarised, and some witnesses have referred to them as ‘concentration camps’. What is clear is that the Sri Lankan regime set out to separate civilians from people they suspected to be LTTE combatants (who had surrendered). Suspected LTTE combatants were then transferred to separate ‘satellite’ camps, where the Army subjected them to more brutal treatment than people in the other IDP camps. Mass disappearances, sexual abuse, torture and forced labour were reported. Without looking at the detail of these abuses, at the very least they contravened the Geneva Convention on the treatment of Prisoners of War (POW). However, the Sri Lankan Government, perhaps learning from the Bush Administration or British rule in Northern Ireland, justified their actions by branding people in these satellite camps to be ‘terrorists’, not POW’s. Most NGO’s had little or no access to these camps. However, the IOM seems to have been uniquely complicit in building and administering these camps.

Academic researcher Julian Vigo interviewed several aid workers who witnessed what happened:

>> Susan, an IOM Program Manager, whose job it was to work with managing suspected Tamil Tigers to report the situation of the IDP (Internally Displaced Persons) camps in Sri Lanka relates her knowledge of the IDP and Surendee Camps:

“The government put civilians in IDP camps and suspected Tigers in separate camps, men of all ages and some women. Eleven thousand people were put in these camps called Surrendee Camps as the government wanted these possible Tigers to renounce their allegiances. The government then set up programs to brainwash them and the camps were closed, completely militarised…Their proposal was to keep these people in the camps for an indefinite period of time. When I was there the debate was under what conditions are you keeping these people detained.” “There was a big schism between the UN agencies and IOM. IOM was working with the government to construct rehabilitation camps, to put programs in these camps. The donors were worried because the ICRC (International Committee of the Red Cross) didn’t have access to these camps. So funding wasn’t forthcoming and IOM had broken from the position of the UN as it was more supportive of the government’s position and of the integration of IDPs. While there I was trying to get IOM to tow the line and to be part of the UN system—that as long as the legal status of these people inside these Surrendee Camps was not conclusive, that the UN was not going to get involved”.

>> A former UNICEF Protection Officer discusses the manner in which:

“In the Vavuniya field protection cluster, we constructed arguments around articles in applicable international conventions. For example the presumption of innocence: people in camps were supposed to be innocent until the government would find them guilty, but in fact the burden of proof was the opposite. We were stretching our minds to find conventions and articles we could use. We also went to other clusters to let them understand that they were buying into practices that would violate human rights. It worked on the field level but decisions were made in Colombo. Then suddenly, we in the field learned that IOM were building shelters in the newly identified Menik Farm 5, when we were still building Menik Farm 3 and 4 and already finding this process controversial”.

The IOM/GoSL camps were funded by UK DfID

The UK Department for International Development (DfID) donated £2.16 million to the IOM between September 2008 and May 2010, amounting to 17% of their total “humanitarian assistance” to Sri Lanka.

DfID’s accounts partially corroborate the above statements of Vigo’s whistle-blowers:

  • DfID were funding IOM to build medical facilities in IDP camps in Vavuniya – was this in Menik Farm 5?
  • IOM had access to ‘closed’ camps (but did not speak out about human rights abuses)
  • IOM registered and issued IDPs with ID cards (but did not notice enforced disappearances?)

Here are the itemised donations made from UK DfID to IOM in this period:

  • £0.5 million: This grant enabled IOM to build, equip and supply 10 temporary health clinics in the IDP camps in Vavuniya. The clinics are staffed by doctors and nurses from the Ministry of Health, who diagnose and treat injuries and illnesses and refer serious cases to the referral hospital.
  • £0.25 million: This grant will enable IOM to transport IDPs from the existing ‘closed’ camps back to their areas of origin in a safe and dignified way.
  • £1.0 million: This multi sector grant supports the safe and dignified transportation of a further 15,000 people; emergency shelter for 350 households; safe water, sanitation and hygiene promotion to 350 households; livelihoods support for 400 households; primary health care services for 40,000 returnees; and will ensure completion of the provision of ID cards for all returnees.
  • £0.335 million: This grant enables IOM to support the Office for Central Statistics in the registration and provision of ID cards to the IDPs. This is a fundamental requirement ahead of returns of the IDPs from the camps to their homes.
  • £0.075 million: This is an emergency “bridging” grant to keep IOM’s transport service on the road before other longer term donor funds become available. This provides safe, dignified transport for returning IDPs going to transit centres in their home areas.

To discover exactly what abuses the IOM participated in during this period will recover more staff leaking information, or victims coming forward.

IOM now revoking DfID-funded ID cards to prevent asylum claims?

The ID cards issued by the IOM (and paid for in large part by the British Government) have recently become an open controversy. On 12th September 2012, Tamil Net alleged that “a section of the officials of the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), working with the Sri Lankan State, have been harassing former LTTE members to return the identity cards the organisation had earlier provided to them certifying their release. The IOM, which undertook ‘pre-release profiling’ of more than 10,000 ex-Tiger members, had received foreign aid from Japan, Norway, USA, The Netherlands and the UK for the programme named ‘Information, Counselling, and Referral Services’ (ICRS). After completing the project, the inter-governmental organisation, with its global agenda of restricting ‘illegal immigration’, has now sought to prevent the possibility of ex-Tiger members using the identity card to document their background when they seek political asylum outside the island”.

The timing of this development is particularly sinister given a new ruling made by a British Court before another deportation charter flight went to Sri Lanka on 19th September 2012. Tamils in the UK will now only be granted asylum if they can prove a “real or perceived association with the LTTE”.

IOM’s Danziger lied about resettlement of IDPs

Frustration with the IOM boiled over into open hostility last month, as Tamil activists denounced another DfID funded IOM program.

On Tuesday 25th September IOM Sri Lanka Chief, Richard Danziger, issued a press release claiming that the “IOM yesterday helped the last 251 families in the Menik Farm camp displacement camp near Vavuniya in northern Sri Lanka to voluntarily return to their homes in Mullaitivu district…These families wanted to go home and IOM, in partnership with the UN and the humanitarian community, has helped them to do so in safety and dignity. Their home area has now been demined and is suitable for habitation”.

Suspicions should be aroused automatically, because Danziger had used IOM’s favourite phrase; “voluntarily return”. It turns out that Danziger’s claim is demonstrably false. On 21 September, a signed memo was issued “from the Keppapulavu people to the International Community”. These last inhabitants of the Cheddiku’lam IDP camp at Menik Farm defiantly stated that “We have steadfastly refused to resettle anywhere but in our native villages…we understand that a huge military base has been built in our village and that the GoSL has no intention of resettling us in Keppapilavu”

On Sunday 23rd September, they were forcibly evicted by the Sri Lankan Army. They had no homes to return to, because their village is occupied by the Army. Instead, they were simply dumped some distance away from the camp, on a “plot of land cleared after burning jungle at Chooripuram. The people belonging to more than 110 families languish without potable water or any basic facilities”. No IOM officials were present to observe the “resettlement” process.

Dumped at Chooripuram, a site described by Danziger as “suitable for habitation”

Analysts described how Tamil people are affected by ‘resettlement’ which was “on one hand engineering economic subservience of them for generations to come and was on the other hand facilitating militarisation, Sinhala colonisation, demographic changes and on the whole, a structural genocide.”

Political activists in Vanni also commented to Tamil Net about how deadly the IOM’s deceit is for the Tamil people: “The country of Eezham Tamils has become a fertile ground for a number of international forces to test all their state-of-the-art techniques in conducting genocide and at the same time making it not an issue to the world. There is no international mechanism to indict responsible international organizations like the IOM that tell lies”.

There is a clear task for citizens in the IOM’s donor countries to hold the organisation to account over their “resettlement” program in Sri Lanka.

Sources:
 
DfID funded projects in Sri Lanka
OCHA briefing on IDP camps with some info on NGO access, contains map

Myth number 4: The IOM monitors the safety of Tamils returned to Sri Lanka

IOM Myths Busted

  • Myth number 4: The IOM monitors the safety of Tamils returned to Sri Lanka

False. The IOM briefly came to public attention in the controversy over Britain’s second charter flight to Sri Lanka since the mass deportations between London and Colombo resumed in June 2011. The Guardian reported on the morning of the September 28th deportation charter flight to Sri Lanka that:

“As lawyers for some of the individuals lodged last-minute appeals, the Home Office claimed that arrangements to monitor the welfare of the deportees had been sub-contracted to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), an inter-governmental body. “They do it on our behalf,” a spokesman said.

When the IOM denied this, the Border Agency conceded that the only measure being taken to ensure the safety of Tamils who are forcibly removed from the UK to Sri Lanka is to give them the telephone number and address of the British high commission in Colombo.”

However, the relationship between the British High Commission and the IOM remains unclear. Before the next mass deportation charter flight took place on 15th December 2011, the Deputy High Commissioner, Robbie Bulloch, was photographed meeting IOM Cheif of Mission Richard Danziger in Jaffna. Danziger frequently crops up working alongside dictatorial regimes. As head of the IOM’s Counter-Trafficking Division, he unveiled IOM projects in Belarus and in Egypt. The later was at IOM event in Cairo under the patronage of Mrs. Suzanne Mubarak, then First Lady of Egypt.

Deputy High Commissioner Robbie Bulloch met Richard Danziger, Chief of Mission of the IOM in Sri Lanka, on 4th December 2011. The topic of discussion is unknown. [FCO Flickr]

Officially, the IOM was only ever required to monitor people returning from Britain to Sri Lanka who had accepted their ‘voluntary’ re-intergration package (i.e. prior to IOM handing over this role to Refugee Action in 2010), and for just one-year after arrival. As Frances Weber noted, the results of even this limited sample were alarming:

“A 2009 study of forty-eight voluntary returnees to Sri Lanka by the Migration Development Research Centre (DRC) found that nearly all twenty-nine Tamils in the sample had suffered racial harassment from police or other officials since their return, and four had suffered serious human rights abuses. Forty-four of the forty-eight in the sample had started businesses, but twenty had closed and another twenty provided a living at or below subsistence level. Only four generated a profit above subsistence level”

Myth number 3: The IOM help migrants who want to return home voluntarily

IOM Myths Busted

  • Myth number 3: The IOM help migrants who want to return home voluntarily

Dubious. The voluntary nature of the IOM’s return programs is highly questionable. A brief history is summarised by Rony Erez:

“In 1979, at the request of the West German government, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) created the first European voluntary return programme, to assist asylum seekers in leaving Germany and returning to their country of origin. Since then, the number and scope of IOM’s Assisted Voluntary Return (AVR) programmes in Europe has increased dramatically, with programmes now operating in most EU states, targeting irregular migrants, refugees and unsuccessful asylum seekers. These programmes are designed to enable these migrant categories to return to their home countries voluntarily, while providing assistance ranging from arrangement and purchasing of transportation, to provision of reintegration assistance

The first IOM AVR programme in the UK began in 1999, at which time return assistance was restricted to obtaining travel documents and the provision of transportation. IOM has been running this programme in the UK since then, although it has recently been taken over by the charity Refugee Action in 2010″.

The IOM worked inside migrant detention centres in Britain where all detainees face forcible deportation or continued confinement. In this desperate environment, the UK Border Agency (UKBA) paid the IOM to offer detainees ‘voluntary’ return packages. This would include help with finding accommodation or work in their country of origin. However, anecdotal evidence heard by the author suggests the IOM often failed to honour their side of the bargain. A Malawian asylum-seeker detained at Yarl’s Wood who returned ‘voluntarily’ in 2009 reported that IOM only paid the first of several installments before her resettlement package evaporated. In another case, forms were signed in conditions of severe duress. A Nigerian man with mental health problems who was detained in Colnbrook for over a year signed voluntary return forms when he was put in solitary confinement for several days, with no reason for his isolation given by the detention custody officers.

Frances Weber, at the Institute of Race Relations, has slammed the notion of ‘voluntary’ returns:

“Repatriation cannot be termed ‘voluntary’ where the alternative is utter destitution, with denial of accommodation, basic support and the opportunity to work, or the prospect of children being taken into care, or months or years in detention. Nor can it be ‘voluntary’ where the prospect of obtaining recognition as a refugee has become remote because the system for the determination of asylum claims and appeals is deliberately under-funded, depriving increasing numbers of asylum seekers of any legal representation for this supremely important legal decision.”

The British State have also benefited by using the IOM’s voluntary return programs to publicise countries as safe destinations before the UKBA began forced removals by charter flights to some of the most war-torn places on earth, as was the case in the sequence of returns to Kosovo, Afghanistan, Iraq and Sri Lanka.