15 February 2013
ALISTAIR BURT INTERVIEW - 1 FEBRUARY 2013
The BBC’s Charles Haviland interviewed Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign & Commonwealth Affairs Minister Alistair Burt on 1st February 2013, during an official visit to Sri Lanka.
In the latter half of the interview on the issue of the deportation of failed asylum seekers, Charles Haviland, noting that a number of international organisations say they have clear testimony that some of those returned to Sri Lanka have then been tortured, questioned “Is it really right that Britain should be sending them back?”
The Minister answered in no uncertain terms, “We do not have the direct evidence of which you speak. We are aware of the allegations and we’ve sought to get confirmation....So far we have not had those allegations substantiated....I look into this extremely carefully, I have just not seen this”.
On the 16 September 2012, TAG published its report “Returnees at Risk: Detention and Torture in Sri Lanka” based largely on 26 successful asylum appeal determinations. All 26 cases were of Sri Lankan Tamils who had voluntarily returned to Sri Lanka and been subject to torture. All had escaped detention and fled to the UK where their asylum applications had been successful. The full report is at http://www.tamilsagainstgenocide.org/Data/Docs/TAG-Report-16-Sep-2012-Returnees-at-Risk.pdf
. TAG’s September report dealt with voluntary returns. Nevertheless TAG presented clear, substantiated evidence that a number of Sri Lankan Tamils returning from the UK had been found to have been tortured.
Yet some 5 and a half months after the release of that report, Mr Burt denied that allegations from international organisations had been substantiated. Since the Minister’s confident assertions, the Home Office in response to a freedom of information (FoI) request has revealed that between May 2009 and September 2012, 15 failed asylum seekers forcibly returned to Sri Lankan by the UK Border Agency managed to escape back to Britain whereupon they won refugee status after giving evidence that they were tortured in Sri Lanka.
The FoI response has merely made open information and knowledge of which the UKBA was already in possession. Surely UKBA must either accept a charge of lack of transparency, if not deceit, or of incompetence. Either UKBA had analysed its own data or it had not. If it had, why had it not shared its findings with Mr Burt, or for that matter with the judiciary?
Perhaps by the 1 February the UKBA had not processed or analysed its own data and thus neither the UKBA, FCO nor Mr Burt were aware that there were 15 failed asylum seekers tortured upon being forcibly returned. But with regards to voluntary returns at least TAG had done the UKBA’s work for it and had put its analysis before the UKBA.
Mr Burt ought not to claim that there are no substantiated allegations or that he looked into this matter “extremely carefully”.