04/01/2023, 13.20
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London sends Tamil refugees to Kigali

A British official says in a letter that asylum seekers from Sri Lanka will be relocated to a "safe third country," but this has not yet been identified. The Tamil refugees had fled law enforcement persecution and after 18 months of imprisonment on Diego Garcia Island attempted suicide by swallowing needles and blades. They are currently in Rwanda to receive medical treatment.

London (AsiaNews) - The United Kingdom has sent a letter to two Tamil asylum seekers hospitalized in Kigali, Rwanda, after attempting suicide, saying they will be taken to a "safe third country."

The man and woman, both 22, are part of a group of refugees-among them allegedly torture victims in Sri Lanka-rescued by the Royal Navy in the Indian Ocean as they were attempting to reach Canada in October 2021. 

On that date, U.K. ships had escorted them to the island of Diego Garcia, part of the Chagos archipelago south of the Maldives, a cluster of islands that the U.K. calls the British Indian Ocean Territory and over which it continues to claim sovereignty, despite a U.N. court ruling that they are part of Mauritius.

On March 3, five people were flown to a military hospital in Rwanda to receive medical treatment as their health conditions deteriorated. According to The New Humanitarian, they were reportedly undergoing psychotherapy for attempting suicide after 18 months of imprisonment, attempting to swallow needles and the blade of a pencil sharpener upon news that they would be sent back to Sri Lanka.

At least 19 minors and 49 adults are currently being held at a military base jointly administered by the United Kingdom and the United States and built in the 1960s and 1970s after the island's 27-square-kilometer population was evacuated.

Many said they had been tortured and sexually abused by Sri Lankan security forces for alleged links to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil, a separatist group that fought for independence against the Sri Lankan government during a 26-year civil war that ended only in 2009.

On March 26, one of the five people in Rwanda for medical treatment recounted in a letter the conditions of detention at the Diego Garcia base: "They put barbed wire fences around us and keep us like animals. If they send me to the country, Sri Lanka I will be tortured and beaten to death."

In recent days, the commissioner for the British Indian Ocean Territory, Paul Candler, sent a missive to the two Tamil refugees stating that they will not be sent back to Sri Lanka but will be relocated to a "safe third country" as soon as this has been identified. 

According to lawyers pursuing the case, that safe country is supposed to be the United Kingdom, but London has long been working to send to Rwanda-whose government has been criticized for respecting human rights and failing to ensure people's safety-all those who arrive on British shores in an "irregular manner."

About fifty people detained on Diego Garcia Island have been refused applications for international protection and the cases are being reviewed by legal experts, as is the agreement between the British and Rwandan governments signed in 2022 to house the migrants.

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