COLOMBO (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Sri Lanka has asked the United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, for help to resettle scores of mainly Pakistani asylum seekers in another country, saying many are economic migrants and a threat to the security and health of the Indian Ocean island.
According to the UNHCR, at least 88 Pakistanis have been deported since Aug. 1 in what the agency said was a breach of international law. It has called for an end to the deportations and demanded access to 75 detained people awaiting deportation.
Samantha Jayasuriya, a Sri Lankan envoy to the United Nations in Geneva, told the UNHCR the United Nations had not dealt with asylum seekers whose applications had been turned down, leaving them to be a burden on the country.
“Regrettably, the process of resettlement slowed down considerably in 2013/14, resulting in serious law and order, security, as well as health related issues for Sri Lanka,” she said.
Jayasuriya called on the UNHCR to speed up the resettlement process and ensure safe houses and funding for asylum seekers while claims were processed. Those whose applications were rejected, should be resettled to a third country, she added.
“At present, once rejected, (the) UNHCR bears no responsibility for the welfare or return of rejected asylum-seekers,” she said, adding that Sri Lanka was sheltering refugees even though it is not a signatory to the 1951 UN Refugee Convention.
In September, a Sri Lankan court gave permission to authorities to send back scores of Pakistani asylum seekers, after the government said some were engaged in criminal activities and had brought malaria to the island nation, which was otherwise virtually free of the disease.
Most of the Pakistanis are from the Ahmadiyya Islamic sect. The Ahmadi consider themselves Muslims, but a 1984 Pakistani law declared them non-Muslims and many Pakistanis consider them heretics.
In July, a mob killed an Ahmadi woman and two of her granddaughters in Pakistan after another sect member was accused of posting blasphemous material on Facebook.
According to UNHCR guidelines, members of religious minorities may need protection and require particularly careful examination of their asylum claims.