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Britain places the lives of Tamil refugees in ‘grave danger’

British authorities have come under fire for placing the lives of Tamil refugees, including children, at risk by enabling those stranded in Diego Garcia to travel onward in vessels that lacked basic safety equipment.

The UK law firm Leigh Day, which represents 81 of the refugees, noted that if British authorities have enabled this travel, without ensuring the boats are safe, they may be in breach of international law as well as the UK Children Act. The law firm highlights that these refugees are desperate to escape the island because of the deplorable conditions but are unable to due to the UK’s unwillingness to consider their asylum claims.

Read more here: British minister denies Tamil asylum seekers are detained on Diego Garcia

The Guardian reports that the refugees are making onward travel in the fishing boars they used to flee Sri Lanka. One boat, carrying  46 people, ended up on the French territory of Réunion after three weeks at sea, while another, carrying 35 people including an 18-month-old child, had to be escorted back to Diego Garcia after its engine failed. This boat has since been enabled to leave again.

According to letters obtained by the Guardian, this boat departed again on 9 October with 16 adults and a 10-year-old, with the government claiming that it had been “escorted into open sea by Ministry of Defence personnel towards Sri Lanka”.

The vessel does not have an automatic identification system meaning that it cannot be tracked. The boat is believed to have no life raft and insufficient life jackets as well as no radio. Responding to this, Tessa Gregory, a Leigh Day partner, told the Guardian:

“If the UK and BIOT authorities facilitated the departure of vessels onto the open sea without tracking systems and adequate life safety equipment, that is an appalling dereliction of duty that risks life and limb of the adults and children aboard”.

She added:

“We are extremely concerned that the boat which left last Sunday may again founder, and have asked the UK and BIOT authorities to confirm what measures are in place to ensure that the vessel is monitored so that immediate rescue can be carried out if required, but to date have had no response.”

Leigh Day also questions the credibility of the government’s claim that the boat is returning to Sri Lanka, as opposed to heading to Réunion, as those onboard have previously been given the option to fly back with £1,500 assistance.

Responding to the story, the British government insisted that:

“The migrants on BIOT are not detained and are free to leave at any time. Those who have departed so far have done so voluntarily and independently. The BIOT administration facilitated sea trials to ensure that vessels were seaworthy.”

Read the  Guardian's report here.

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