September 2, 2013 – 17:18
The Swiss refugee authorities say deportations of rejected Tamil asylum seekers to Sri Lanka have been temporarily suspended following reports of arrests and international criticism of the military’s increasing influence on the country’s leadership.
The move was taken to avoid further arrests of Tamils upon their return from Switzerland, according to the Federal Migration Office.
A spokeswoman said the Swiss embassy to Colombo was mandated to investigate the fate of two Tamils who were repatriated recently. Among them is a man, who was politically active while he and his family lived as asylum seekers in Switzerland.
Human rights groups have launched a petition calling for an end – not just a temporary suspension – to deportations to Sri Lanka.
The Swiss chapter of Amnesty International accused the Sri Lankan government of using harsh measures to crack down on suspected political opponents.
“People disappear, people are tortured and suffer abuse,” Amnesty’s Patrick Walder told the Swiss News Agency on Monday.
Rights groups have called on the Swiss authorities to break off negotiations on a formal repatriation accord with Sri Lanka. The talks were started in 2009.
Over the past two years, more than 150 people have been repatriated to Sri Lanka, 24 of them against their own will, according to Amnesty. The migration office puts the total figure at about 250.
The United Nations human rights chief, Navi Pillay, has strongly criticised the Sri Lankan government, saying the regime of President Mahinda Rajapaksa is showing signs of becoming more authoritarian despite the end of the country’s civil more than four years ago.
“It is important to realise that although the fighting is over, the suffering is not. The military appears to be putting down roots and becoming involved in what should be civilian activities,” Pillay told journalists in Colombo on Saturday.
She was speaking at the end of a controversial fact-finding mission to assess Sri Lanka’s progress after the 26-year war between the government and separatist Tamils.
The government has rejected the accusations, saying she acted beyond her mandate.
A UN resolution in March urged Sri Lanka to carry out credible investigations into killings and disappearances during the civil war, especially in the final stages.
Urs Geiser, swissinfo.ch and agencies
Tamils in Switzerland
An estimated 50,000 people from Sri Lanka, mainly ethnic Tamils, live in Switzerland.
Nearly 3,000 of them are asylum seekers, according to the Federal Migration Office.
More than 1,800 Tamils were given temporary refugee status by the end of July 2013.