Colombo (AsiaNews) - "It makes no sense to express sympathy after deporting a group of asylum seekers who sought refuge in Sri Lanka. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has to dialogue with the government", Christian lawyer and human rights activist Lakshan Dias tells AsiaNews, commenting on the deportation - August 1 and 5 - of 36 Pakistanis, after two months spent in detention in Colombo.
Earlier this month the Department of Immigration and Emigration reported that Pakistani and Afghan nationals visiting Sri Lanka will no longer receive a tourist visa before arrival at the airport, and that asylum seekers who are on the island without a long-term visa will be deported to their countries of origin.
The Department said that the operation provides for the repatriation of 147 Pakistanis and 85 Afghans arrested by Sri Lankan authorities.
The many asylum seekers include many Christians and Shiite and Sunni Muslims, fleeing from Pakistan and Afghanistan because threatened by religious extremists. "The Taliban are killing us," says a young Afghan to AsiaNews. "We can no longer live there in a peaceful manner and that's why we came to Sri Lanka, in order then to move to another country."
"We should not forget - Lakshan Dias tells AsiaNews - there are at least 4 million Sri Lankans abroad in search of protection as refugees. These Pakistanis who have come to seek protection for their lives are not an intolerable burden for Sri Lanka . We must address this issue with a sense of brotherhood, because we are all human beings".
The UN agency has urged the Sri Lankan government to stop the deportations and allow them to meet with refugees and asylum seekers still detained in Colombo, to assess their conditions.
UNHCR spokeswoman Arane Rummery says: "We understand that the recent actions of the Sri Lankan government have been in response to the increase in the number of asylum seekers. However, we are unable to monitor their return conditions, and appeal to the Sri Lankan authorities to respect the principle of non-refoulement by not sending people back to a place where their lives could be in danger without the opportunity to assess their needs for international protection".