(Priti Patel, Home Secretary - Photo Credit: No 10. Downing Street)
Responding to a question posed by Lord Green of Deddington, Lord Greenhalgh, Minister of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, maintained that since the start of this year, “the UK has not participated in EU Readmission Agreements with third countries” (including Sri Lanka) and is “no longer party to these agreements”.
On Tuesday, the British Government laid out its Nationality and Borders bill which would enable UK immigration authorities to intercept vessels in British waters and force them to foreign ports. It is part of a broader “New Plan for Immigration” which seeks to curb the migration of asylum seekers from Europe to Britain and instead “prioritise resettling refugees from regions of conflict”. The British Government claims this is because Europe has already offered these asylum seekers a safe haven however it follows a series of deportations of Tamil asylum seekers in both Germany and Switzerland.
Earlier this year, the British Upper Tribunal recognised that the "authoritarian" Government of Sri Lanka continued to pose a threat to Tamil asylum seekers forcibly returned with outgoing reports of torture.
The proposed legislation has faced sharp criticism with the Assistant High Commissioner for Protection at the UNHCR labelling the policy as “neo-colonial” and criticising Western countries of trying to “wash their hands” of these refugees.
“What we are finding is that western, developed and wealthy countries are now not sharing responsibilities but shifting burdens to these poor countries,” she added. In addition to the UNHCR, the Governments of Scotland and Gibraltar have opposed the proposed offshoring scheme which was modelled on the policies the Government of Australia introduced in 2013.
(Tamil refugees and Labour parliamentarians protesting on Earl William, 1987)
In 1987, the Thatcher administration attempted a similar policy that imprisoned Tamil refugees fleeing genocide on a ship known as the Earl William. Whilst the Government was forced to abandon its policy, five Tamil refugees were deported back to Sri Lanka where they were subject to torture and beatings.
Read more here: The Great Storm of 1987
Commenting on the proposed policy;
“When I see desperate refugees swimming in the water from places like Syria where there is a civil war, I just feel so sad and angry […] My mind goes back to the time when I had to take a similar risk. The Government’s plans will create a terrible prison where people are sent to die. Their minds will be completely gone. It is a totally inhumane idea.”