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Britain deports Tamil refugees to Rwanda despite suicide attempts

The British government has sent five Tamil refugees, who have attempted suicide on the British-held island of Diego Garcia, to Rwanda for medical treatment despite their pleas for resettlement, reports the New Humanitarian.

According to the New Humanitarian, one asylum seeker attempted suicide by swallowing the blade of a broken pencil sharpener, whilst another broke a sewing needle and swallowed both parts. This was also attempted by three Tamil men stationed on the island on 13 March.

The move comes as the UK government has introduced the controversial Illegal Migration Bill which will bar asylum seekers from claiming protection in the UK if they arrive through irregular means. The Home Office maintains that those who enter the UK through small boat crossing will not be able to claim asylum but will be removed to a safe third country, such as Rwanda.

The arrangement with Rwanda, which will see the African country operating as an offshore migration process centre, was agreed upon with the previous Home Secretary, Priti Patel, last April.

The five Tamil refugees removed to Rwanda were among the first 89 asylum seekers to arrive on Diego Garcia in October 2021. They were fleeing Sri Lanka and India, to claim asylum in Canada, before their boat broke down and British authorities rescued them and placed them in a fenced encampment in Diego Garcia. The New Humanitarian details the harrowing accounts of Tamil asylum seekers which note that they suffered sexual abuse from Sri Lankan and Indian security forces and police.

The UK Foreign Office refused to comment on the attempted suicide attempt by these Tamil refugees but admitted that they are receiving medical treatment at a military hospital in Rwanda.

The New Humanitarian also highlights that the camp’s population peaked at 173 asylum seekers last year but has since diminished to 94. Of the refugees that left, many had signed documents claiming that they would return to Sri Lanka and left via a boat in January 2023 however then claimed asylum on the French island of Réunion. Others reportedly accepted payments from the British government for “voluntary return” to Sri Lanka. 

Due to a legal loophole, the UK is not obliged to treat those stationed in Diego Garcia under the 1951 Refugee Convention, which prohibits refoulment – the deportation of refugees to unsafe countries.

Read the full piece at the New Humanitarian


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