JONATHAN MILLER Foreign Affairs Correspondent
Weeks after William Hague’s summit on sexual violence in conflict, the British government is to deport a Tamil woman back to Sri Lanka, despite claims she was repeatedly raped by Sri Lankan soldiers.
The Tamil woman came to the UK in 2010, soon after the end of the country’s civil war, and says that she was repeatedly raped while held in detention by Sri Lankan soldiers before she left the country.
Despite serious concerns that she is at risk of rape at the hands of authorities if she is forcibly returned to Sri Lanka, because of her previous involvement in the LTTE rebel group and her previous abuse, her application for asylum has been turned down.
Expert evidence seen by Channel 4 News concluded that she posed a suicide risk, that she was suffering from PTSD, and that her claims of rape in Sri Lanka were credible, despite being found “not credible” by the Home Office.
I could see she was a woman… clearly terrified about being sent back to Sri Lanka. – Tim Martin, Act Now
The medico-legal report, compiled by an eminent clinical psychologist at King’s College, detailed her extensive PTSD symptoms and highlighted that she had attempted suicide while in detention.
Rape in conflict
The decision on her deportation follows a huge global conference just three weeks ago hosted by Foreign Secretary William Hague and Angelina Jolie, pledging to tackle the use of rape as a weapon of war in conflict.
Mr Hague also pledged to specifically investigate claims that Tamil asylum seekers are being deported despite evidence that they were abused and raped by Sri Lankan authorities.
In addition, the United Nation’s committee against torture (CAT) last year raised concerns about the British government’s policy towards sending Sri Lankan asylum seekers back to their country of origin. The committee highlighted that evidence that some Sri Lankan Tamils” have been victims of torture and ill-treatment following their forced or voluntary removal from the State party”.
The foreign secretary has so far not provided any comment. A Foreign Office spokesperson said they were aware of this specific case and added: “We attach great importance to ensuring that vulnerable survivors of sexual violence are dealt with sensitively throughout their asylum or immigration applications… Where, in an individual case, a person raises material issues about safety on return, the Home Office will review it.”
‘She had lost all hope’
The woman at risk of deportation, who is not being named for her own protection, says she was taken from her home in 2009 and brought to an army base where she was tortured and raped by six different men over the course of three weeks.
Tim Martin from the human rights organisation Act Now has acted as a witness in her case. He said in his written statement: “I could see she was a woman that had lost all hope in the world and a woman clearly terrified about being sent back to Sri Lanka.
The UK government needs to improve support and protection for Sri Lankan survivors of sexual violence or else Hague’s promises on preventing sexual violence on the global stage will ring untrue. Yolanda Foster, Amnesty International
“She spoke of the nightmares she continues to be haunted by and held the posture of a woman that had given up.”
The Sri Lankan woman has been detained since last November, when she was put on a fast-track deportation route because of overstaying her visa. She was on a plane to Sri Lanka in February when a judge ruled in favour of a judicial review, but subsequent appeals have been rejected.
UK gov must ‘improve support’
Her lawyers say that the relevant medical evidence and documents backing up her claims were not available at the time of her only court hearing. In addition, the ruling was made by an all-male panel of judges, and the woman did not feel able to discuss her experience or go into detail about her abuse in front of them. during the hearing.
In her medical report, the senior psychologist, who is an expert in trauma, was critical of the style of questioning from the home office, which she said “jump[ed] back and forth.” She also said the questions asked “do not appear to be of an appropriate style for an interview in relation to alleged torture and rape, or to follow Home Office guidelines on interviewing alleged victims of torture and sexual violence.”
Yolanda Foster, Sri Lanka expert at Amnesty international, told Channel 4 News that the home office is not supporting sexual violence survivors through their asylum claims, meaning they are unable to be open or give enough evidence about what they have been subjected to.
She added: “The UK government needs to improve support and protection for Sri Lankan survivors of sexual violence or else Hague’s promises on preventing sexual violence on the global stage will ring untrue.”
The Home Office refused to comment on this specific case. A spokesperson said: “We only undertake returns when we are satisfied that the individual has no real risk of torture or ill treatment on their return.”