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Tamil refugees launch crowdfunder to fight removal from Diego Garcia to Sri Lanka

Tamil Refugees have sought legal help to bring a judicial review to British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT) high court over the commissioner's intention to return around 94 refugees to Sri Lanka

For over a year, around 94 refugees – including families with children – have been held in prison-like conditions in Diego Garcia, the largest island of the BIOT.

The Commissioner has now expressed their intention to return the refugees to Sri Lanka, where Tamils face persecution. 

They have been living in several shared tents surrounded by fencing. There are not enough basic facilities such as bathrooms, no private spaces for each family, no facilities for cooking their own meals, little schooling for children, and no hospital. 

The families had been held at the base since 3 October 2021. A boat was carrying the Eelam Tamils, who had fled from refugee camps in Madurai and Thiruchirapally in India, and had to be rescued at sea and brought to Diego Garcia.

Last year As many as 42 Eelam Tamil asylum-seekers launched a hunger strike after eight months of being detained on a military base 3,000 miles south of India, as a plea to the UK government to allow them to seek asylum in another country.  

The 42 refugees are part of a group of 89 Eelam Tamils, including 20 children who set out from southern India in a fishing boat in late September 2021 in the hopes of claiming asylum in Canada. Most of the group fled to India years earlier to escape death and violence during the culmination of the Tamil Genocide in Mullivaikkal of 2009. At least one of the asylum seekers took part in the Pottuvil to Polikandy (P2P) protest rally in 2021

The collection of islands is run from London by a Commissioner appointed by the King. The BIOT appears to escape the reach of international law, such as the Refugee Convention and operates within a legal grey area.

The London-based commissioner has refused to relocate the refugees to the UK. It has been suggested that they may be taken to an alternative 'safe third country.' 

It has been made clear to the families that they are unable to claim asylum in Diego Garcia – no one other than military personnel lives on Diego Garcia. The families do not want to stay on the island – they have survived for almost a year and a half in extremely poor conditions, and want to find refuge in a safe country as soon as possible.

The families have instructed the Public Law Team at Duncan Lewis who has an excellent track record of bringing judicial review claims and also are specialists in refugee claims.

Duncan Lewis have instructed expert counsel Chris Buttler KC and Zoe McCullum at Matrix Chambers and  Ali Bandegani at Garden Court Chambers.

The Indian Ocean archipelago has been at the centre of a decades-long dispute over Britain's decision to separate it from Mauritius in 1965 and set up a major joint military base with the US on -Diego Garcia, the largest of the islands. In the early 70s, between 1,500 and 2,000 islanders were forcibly deported so the island, Diego Garcia, could be leased to the US.



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