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[ 20. Sep 2012 ]

Blockade to stop charter deportation flight - successful action

Blockade on 19th September 2012: No Borders. Freedom

On September 19, 2012, activists blockade the Colnbrook Immigration Removal Centre to prevent detainees being taken to the airport and deported to Sri Lanka. The blockade was succesful and dozens of people taken off flights due to last minute injuction.


London, 19. Sep 2012 - The UK is set to deport dozens of Tamil refugees to Sri Lanka from the UK on 19th September, disregarding clear evidence of torture on return and the outcries of the Tamil community and human rights groups. Injunctions have been granted in the High Court last night, stopping some removals, and others are expected today.

Meanwhile, activists have started a blockade of Colnbrook Immigration Removal Centre, to prevent detainees being taken to the airport. At least one activist is locked on underneath one of the coaches.

Activists have been forced to take this drastic action in an attempt to stop a breach of Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which prohibits the use of torture, inhuman or degrading treatment - and prohibits any state from deporting individuals to countries where they will face that treatment.

Gobi, a Sri Lankan national at the blockade, said:

"we are here because we must stop sending refugees back to the killing fields. The genocide in Sri Lanka is still happening. Tamils are being sent back to torture. The Sri Lankan government refuses to accept United Nations recommendations to investigate 'disappearances'. If the UK continues with this, they are hiding genocide"

The activist locked-on underneath the bus, who did not want to be named, said:

"We are here to stop torture and death, because we have no other option. We are here for the Sri Lankans and in protest and solidarity with every migrant imprisoned and threatened with deportation."

Michael Collins at the National Coalition of Anti Deportation Campaigns said:

"NCADC condemns this mass deportation. In light of the evidence from Freedom From Torture and Human Rights Watch, it is unbelievable that the Border Agency is going ahead with this. The message they are sending out is that the UK cares more about immigration statistics than torture."

These actions follow similar moves in May to stop another charter flight to Sri Lanka, where a sit-down protest from community members may have delayed the departure of the flight long enough for injunctions - a legal decision cancelling an individual's ticket - to be granted. Many of these injunctions were granted by the High Court on the basis of the credible evidence of torture on return.(1)

As Channel 4 news has brought to national attention, violence and intimidation has not ceased in Sri Lanka with the end of the civil war. Human Rights Watch have tracked refused Tamil refugees returned to Sri Lanka, who have been subjected to arbitrary arrest and torture or other ill-treatment.(2) Another NGO, Freedom from Torture, has this week published a new report documenting 24 individuals tortured with deliberate burns with cigarettes and heated metal instruments, beating with pipes or cables and partial asphyxiation using water or plastic bags containing petrol.(3)

Support groups, lawyers and activists have rallied to try and stop this flouting of the UK's duty to respect human rights,(4) but the use of private charter flights (departing from an unknown airport and operated by an unknown company) mean these expulsions are not open to scrutiny and proper legal challenges.

With widespread condemnation and media coverage of the UK's continued use of charter flights to deport people to a regime with clear evidence of torture on return, it begs the question why UK is flouting international law in such a way.

Action success! Government wants to continue deportations

The deportation flight couldn't be stopped, but the blockade was succesfull. 60 deportees were originally booked on the flight. Dozens taken off flights due to last minute injuction. Sadly 25 were sent back, as BBC reported.(5) The Independent wrote: Dozens of failed Sri Lankan asylum seekers were removed at the last minute from a controversial deportation flight today after a senior judge accepted there was a risk that they could be tortured on their return.(6)

TamilNet reports: "Making an emergency 'Point of Order' speech in the House of Commons on Tuesday, Gareth Thomas, Labour MP for Harrow West, raised the issue of deported Tamil asylum seekers being tortured by the Sri Lankan government. Referring to a HRW report on torture of Tamil deportees, Mr. Thomas said "The Foreign Office says they condemn torture but their counterparts in the Home Office have so far rejected the danger of torture to Tamil deportees. At the moment the Tories are saying one thing in one department and doing the reverse in another. They need to take the allegations of torture much more seriously than they are so far."(7)

"UK Queen's Bench Administrative Court Judge, Mr CMG Oakton, while refusing to grant stay of removal of failed Tamil asylum seekers, ruling that the legal challenge has to be mounted on an "individual basis,"(8) said during an individual appeal that he is concerned with the recent reports released by Freedom From Torture, and by Tamils Against Genocide (TAG) on the likelihood of State sanctioned torture in Sri Lanka."(9)

The report by Tamils Against Genocide, published in May 2012, shows that failed refugees who are returned to Sri Lanka are at risk of intimidation, arbitrary detention, disappearance and violence on account of the fact that they sought asylum elsewhere.(10)

The new research by Freedom from Torture highlights the risk for Tamils returning to Sri Lanka from UK. The briefing relating to a group of cases identified by Freedom from Torture of Sri Lankan Tamils tortured in Sri Lanka after they have returned voluntarily(11) from the UK following the end of the civil war in May 2009. The evidence relates to 24 victims of torture in these circumstances who have managed to escape and return to the UK and is based either on forensic reports prepared by the Medico Legal Report Service or on referrals to Freedom from Torture for treatment made in most cases by NHS and other health and social care professionals.(12)

Human Rights Watch has also issued a statement condeming the removals(2), calling for the United Kingdom to immediately suspend deportations to Sri Lanka of ethnic Tamils. "In its haste to be tough on failed refugees, the British government is turning a blind eye to compelling evidence that Tamils deported to Sri Lanka risk torture on arrival," said David Mepham, London director. HRW re-issued a document it sent on August 1 to the UK immigration minister detailing 13 cases of alleged torture(13) of failed Tamil refugees on return to Sri Lanka. All of these cases are supported by medical documentation.

"The government has insisted on continuing with its policy of chartered deportation flights to Sri Lanka even though the judiciary have now twice issued last minute injunctions because of concerns over torture," The Independent wrote.

As long as people are deportated, the protests will continue ...

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8. :: High Court decision, 19. Sep 2012 (pdf)
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10. :: Tamils Against Genocide report (pdf)
11. :: More on "The politics of voluntary returns" in
12. :: Freedom from Torture briefing (pdf)
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