The Tamil Refugee Council condemns the Australian government for deporting to Sri Lanka a former member of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE, or Tamil Tigers).
Santharuban, who fled the country in 2012, last night was taken into custody for questioning in Colombo, the capital, on arrival just after 10pm local time.
He had been handcuffed and removed from the Broadmeadows detention centre (Melbourne Immigration Transit Accommodation) on Tuesday evening and was driven to Sydney – escorted by four guards, one Border Force agent and one doctor – where he was detained.
Early Thursday morning, he was asked to sign a deportation document. He claims that when he refused, Border Force agents grabbed him by the shirt and threatened to handcuff him, tape his mouth shut and drag him onto the plane.
Santharuban signed the document out of fear for his safety and subsequently was put on a flight to Sri Lanka, accompanied by two guards.
The Tamil Refugee Council arranged for prominent human rights lawyer K.S. Ratnavale to be present at Colombo airport, and also made arrangements for Santharuban’s family to travel from the north of the country to meet him.
After four hours of questioning, Santharuban was released to his family. Others returning to Sri Lanka have been detained for weeks or months and endured intensive interrogation.
Ratnavale, who is director of the Centre for Human Rights and Development, told the Tamil Refugee Council he is extremely concerned about the situation and, while he is relieved that Santharuban has been released, believes that he will likely be targeted or arrested in the future.
With the 37th session of the UN Human Rights Council beginning next week in Geneva, the Sri Lankan government will be hesitant to harm him. But the culture of reprisal in the security forces runs deep.
“We did not stop the government’s reckless and shameful act”, said Aran Mylvaganam, Tamil Refugee Council spokesperson. “But, thankfully, and due in part to the intensive campaigning of activists and advocates in Australia, and the noise that we made to highlight this case, Santharuban, for the time being, has a reprieve. Under the circumstances, it is the best we could have hoped for. But he is still in a perilous situation.”
The Tamil Refugee Council will continue to monitor the situation and stay in contact with people close to Santharuban and his family.
“We know from experience that people released from custody often, in subsequent weeks and months, face renewed harassment, assault and worse from security forces. The dangers facing returned Tamils are well documented by the UN and human rights groups, and affirmed by Tamil activists and civilians”, Mylvaganam said.
“Former members of the LTTE, and those suspected of being associated with the Tigers, face greater risk of reprisals and torture.
“Given the undeniable realities on the ground, we continue to demand that the Australian government not deport Tamil asylum seekers to Sri Lanka.”