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UN status can't help refugees

Up to 377 people have been told to leave the country

  • ucanews reporter, Colombo
  • Sri Lanka
  • June 28, 2012
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The grace period for expelling almost 400 immigrants -- despite international refugee status for some -- has passed, leaving UN officials wondering what's next.

Letters were sent to 114 UN-registered asylum seekers and 77 UN-recognized refugees on June 8, giving them two weeks to leave Sri Lanka or face deportation. Another 186 people also received the letter.

“Most individuals asked to leave are Pakistani and Afghan nationals, and they have arrived in the country on tourist visas,” said immigration controller Chulananda Perera. “They have violated immigration laws.”

Sri Lanka is not party to the UN Convention on the Status of Refugees or its 1967 Protocol, which stops nations from penalizing refugees who have entered the country illegally.

The convention also cedes authority to grant refugee status to the UN. In Sri Lanka, the government is supposed to work with the UNHCR to determine refugee status.

The people receiving deportation letters had “ulterior motives” for entering the country, Chulananda Perera said. He indicated that some people applying for refugee status or asylum were involved in drug smuggling and were a national security concern.

Sri Lanka is a transit point for drug trafficking from Pakistan to Europe, according to the Sri Lanka Anti-Narcotics Association.

The UNHCR has obligations and responsibilities in terms of the working agreement entered into with the Sri Lanka in 2005, Chulananda Perera said. He alleged that the UNHCR was not providing adequate information on the whereabouts of foreign nationals in the country.

The decision to deport refugees could reflect poorly on Sri Lanka’s international reputation, said UNHCR spokesperson Sulakshana Perera, who said the UN has not officially received a response to a request for the government to stop the deportations.
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