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Asylum seekers in Sri Lanka face deportation

Publication Date : 06-08-2014


Hundreds of asylum seekers and refugees in Sri Lanka — most of them reportedly Pakistanis — are stuck in limbo as the authorities in Colombo seem intent on deporting them to their country of origin.

The Sri Lankan authorities also feel the UNHCR has been too slow in determining the status of the asylum seekers and processing their resettlement. The UN refugee agency says it wants greater access to the asylum seekers and disagrees with the policy of deportation.

The crisis came to the fore in June when Sri Lankan authorities started rounding up asylum seekers and put them in detention facilities awaiting deportation. Along with Pakistanis, Afghans are also included, while Ahmadis, Hazara Shias and Christians are said to be among the asylum seekers.

Colombo has said the refugees are posing “security and health-related” risks to the country. But considering the rough treatment that is often meted out to minorities in Pakistan and Afghanistan, Sri Lanka needs to take a more humane view of the plight of these people.

Some Sri Lankan commentators have said rising nationalist sentiment has caused the government to take a hard line against foreigners seeking refuge in the country. Indeed, the line in Colombo is that these are ‘economic migrants’.

While economic migration is a fact and some of the Sri Lankan government’s concerns may be valid, it is difficult to believe all those seeking protection are simply doing so for economic benefit.

Considering the reported religious backgrounds of the individuals, there are valid concerns that if they are deported they may face threats to their lives. The UN is right when it says deportation goes against the principle of ‘no forced return’.

The Sri Lankan authorities should grant UNHCR greater access to the asylum seekers so that their cases can be processed in a way that is acceptable to all sides. In the meantime, there is much to be remedied in Pakistan where a narrative of extremism and hate holds out no hope for those at the receiving end.


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