German authorities have conducted mass raids and detained Tamil refugees across the country, mainly in Nordrhein-Westfalen and Baden-Württemberg, as it looks set to deport as many as 100 to Sri Lanka next week.
As well as raiding homes, authorities reportedly invited asylum seekers to renew their permits to remain but upon arrival at the building, they were detained by police officers, who confiscated their phones and prevented them from communicating with their relatives and loved ones. Many families still do not know the whereabouts of their loved ones who have been detained.
The German authorities are reportedly set to deport the detained Tamils to Sri Lanka on 30 March, despite ongoing reports of torture by Sri Lanka’s security forces.
Reports indicate approximately 31 Tamils are being held in Düsseldorf, approximately 50 at Frankfurt and 11 in Stuttgart, with fears of more raids to come. Amongst the detained refugees are former LTTE cadres who face a particular risk of torture by Sri Lanka's security forces.
The mass raids have caused shock and outrage throughout the German Tamil community and the wider Tamil diaspora.
According to one account;
“He was called in to take a visa but they had set up police inside. They took away his visa forcibly, handcuffed him and are treating him like someone who committed a crime and have put him in jail. I spoke to him in the night. He said they have confiscated his phone and have given him some Nokia phone. They didn’t give him any food. He said they are treating him worse than the Sri Lankan army would.”
A separate account details how a father has been detained and denied communication with his wife, who is looking after their young baby.
A German Tamil activist told the Tamil Guardian:
“They are treating them like they would treat criminals. We have brought this to the attention of MPs and others here."
Reverend Father Albert Koolen has written to the Minister-President of the state of North Rhine-Westphalia Armin Laschet highlighting the concerns over the treatment of the detained Tamils. His letter asks,
"Does the Federal Republic of Germany want to send out a signal to the Sri Lankan Government against the United Nations and against Human Rights Watch that everything is in order with regard to human rights? And that even rejected Tamil asylum seekers have nothing to fear?"
In his statement, he further raised concerns over the ongoing religious persecution in Sri Lanka and noted,
And we, as the Catholic Church, have been waiting since 2009 for a response from the government on what happened to five Catholic priests in the final phase of the war. They have accompanied their communities on the run from continuous shelling by the army and are considered to have disappeared since then. A priest friend of mine, who survived miraculously and documented the last days of war, fears for his life under the new president.
He further urged the minister:
Minister, on behalf of the Tamil Catholics and the Tamil community in Germany and especially in North Rhine-Westphalia, I urge you to stop the planned deportation flight to Sri Lanka. At least until the Government of Sri Lanka makes a clear and internationally verifiable effort to convict war crimes. And as long as the human rights situation has not demonstrably improved internationally. Otherwise, the flight of the deported could become a flight into prison, torture and death.
The People's Council of Eelam Tamils has further criticised the hypocrisy of Germany voting for a resolution and raising concerns of human rights in Sri Lanka whilst simultaneously deporting Tamil refugees to suffer in Sri Lanka. In their statement they note;
"The advancing militarization of the entire country is accompanied by torture and sexual violence. Incidents of torture and inhumane treatment, but also sexual coercion, are frequently documented [...] In addition legal processes are not guaranteed by the Prevention of Terrorism Act [...] Detainees could be arrested indefinitely without a trial".
In response to these deportations, the German Tamil community have organised demonstrations against the deportations in Büren and Pforzheim in front of detention facilities as well as Berlin and Düsseldorf in front of government buildings. These protests will occur on the 28 and 29 March, a day prior to when the deportations are set to occur.
The detention of Tamils in Germany comes just days after a resolution that Germany co-sponsored on Sri Lanka was passed by the UN Human Rights Council.
The resolution, which Germany played a key role in drafting as a member of the Core Group on Sri Lanka, "expresses serious concern at the trends emerging over the past year, which represent a clear early warning sign of a deteriorating situation of human rights in Sri Lanka, including... increased marginalization of persons belonging to the Tamil and Muslim communities... arbitrary detentions; alleged torture and other cruel, inhuman degrading treatment or punishment, and sexual and gender-based violence".