UNITED NATIONS - United Nations human rights experts Thursday expressed grave concern over the detentions and forced deportations of Pakistani asylum seekers in Sri Lanka back to their homeland where violent attacks against religious minorities have spiked in recent years.
‘States must guarantee that every single asylum claim is individually assessed with due process and in line with international law,’ according to a statement issued by UN Special Rapporteurs on minority issues, Rita Izsak, and on freedom of religion and belief, Heiner Bielefeldt.
They called on the Government of Sri Lanka to comply with the principle of non-refoulement (no-forced-returns) when there is a credible potential threat against an individual and to stop the deportations immediately in order to allow the completion of the entire asylum claim process.
At least 108 Pakistani citizens have been deported since the beginning of August, according to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). ‘Most asylum seekers from Pakistan belong to religious minorities, including Ahmadiyya Muslim, Christian and Shia, groups that are often subjected to persecution, discrimination and violence in Pakistan,’ Ms Izsak said. ‘Many of them are being deported despite being registered with UNHCR and having their first instance interviews still pending.’
Violent attacks against religious minorities have increased significantly in recent years, according to Pakistani sources. Last year, 687 persons belonging to religious minorities were reportedly killed in over 200 separate attacks. The expert on freedom of religion and belief, Bielefeldt said: ‘Such violence is fuelled by existing blasphemy legislation particularly targeting minorities and lack of protective measures for them in Pakistan.’
‘The personal security and safety of Ahmadiyya Muslims, Christians and Shias who are being returned to Pakistan from Sri Lanka is a matter of serious concern, due to the large number of cases of violent attacks and threats against members of those religious communities by militant extremists in Pakistan,’ he said.
According to UNHCR, returning an individual to a country where he or she would face a risk of torture is also prohibited under the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.  The agency has also appealed to the Sri Lankan authorities to uphold their responsibilities under international law and ensure full respect for the rights of people in need of international protection.  The rapporteurs hope the Government of Sri Lanka will collaborate with the UN Refugees Agency in its work to guarantee the rights of asylum seekers, and avoid any actions that could lead to possible tragic consequences, according to the statement.