A group of 25 Tamils and other Sri Lankans deported from the UK have arrived in Sri Lanka amid warnings they may face torture on their return.

UK officials said on Wednesday that 60 failed asylum seekers and visa overstayers were being sent back.

But many got last minute court injunctions preventing their return.

Human rights groups say that some of those sent back are in danger of being tortured because of their alleged links to separatist Tamil Tigers.

Sri Lanka’s civil war came to an end in 2009, after 26 years of conflict and up to 100,000 casualties as the rebels fought for self-rule.

International Organisation of Migration (IOM) officials told the BBC’s Charles Haviland at Colombo’s international airport that there were 25 people on board the chartered flight from the UK.

Our correspondent says that families of those being sent back are waiting anxiously at the airport as their loved ones are being quizzed by the authorities. They are expected to be released soon.

Torture allegations

Rights groups say that in previous cases, returnees have been arrested some time after coming back and in some cases tortured. The Sri Lankan government denies this. Both it and the UK have insisted that those being sent back are not in danger of being mistreated.

The IOM says that while its officials are in no way involved in the deportation process, it will provide financial help for the returnees to be reunited with their families.

Presidential adviser Rajiva Wijesinha said on Friday that Britain itself had established that returnees would not be tortured. He said most of those being deported were economic migrants.

Britain says that unless a Sri Lankan Tamil was a high-level activist with the separatist Tamil Tiger rebel group, he or she is unlikely to be targeted on returning to Sri Lanka.

But human rights groups such as Freedom from Torture and Human Rights Watch argue that Tamil people either linked or perceived to be linked to the Tigers – at any level – are at risk if they return.

One Tamil man due to have been sent back told the BBC on Wednesday: “Instead of getting killed there I would far rather commit suicide in the UK.”

A man now on his second asylum application in Britain said he was beaten, deprived of sleep and almost suffocated in polythene and petrol by the Sri Lankan police, the BBC’s Charles Haviland in Colombo reports.

The UK Border Agency says the removal of a person only happens where it is satisfied that he or she has no protection needs.

Both Freedom from Torture and Human Rights Watch say that they have interviewed nearly 40 people who subsequently escaped back to Britain and gave accounts of alleged torture by the Sri Lankan authorities which the groups say is medically verified.


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