Court orders Sri Lanka to stop deporting Pakistani asylum seekers

Fri Aug 15, 2014 2:04pm EDT

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COLOMBO (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - A Sri Lankan court on Friday ordered authorities to stop deporting Pakistani asylum seekers, following a complaint they were being forcibly sent home without having their claims properly assessed.

The United Nations refugee agency says 88 Pakistanis have been deported since Aug. 1. The agency, UNHCR, says it has been denied access to another 75 people who are awaiting deportation.

"The president of the Appeal Court granted interim relief for two weeks to suspend the deportation of all asylum seekers," said Lakshan Dias, the lawyer of a 38-year-old Pakistani woman whose husband, brother and father are currently in detention. The woman brought the original complaint.

The Sri Lankan government says the Pakistanis are part of an influx of economic immigrants in the past year who have become a burden on the country's resources and potentially compromised state and regional security.

But Sri Lanka's Appeal Court said it wanted to look into the cases further and temporarily suspended deportations. A new hearing is scheduled for Aug. 29.

Most of the Pakistanis are from the Ahmadiyya Islamic sect, which believes in a prophet after Mohammed. They Ahmadi consider themselves Muslims, but a 1984 Pakistani law declared them non-Muslims and many Pakistanis consider them heretics.

Last month, a Pakistani mob killed an Ahmadi woman and two of her granddaughters after another sect member was accused of posting blasphemous material on Facebook.

It was not immediately clear if the Sri Lankan government would abide by the court ruling.

Chulananda Perera, controller of the Immigration and Emigration Department, said he had could not comment because he had not received the court .

The court order comes three days after the UNHCR accused Sri Lanka of breaching international law and called on it to halt the deportations and allow the agency to assess claims.

According to UNHCR guidelines, members of religious minorities such as Ahmadiyya Muslims may need protection and require particularly careful examination of their asylum claims.

Authorities deny violating any international laws, saying Sri Lanka is not a signatory to the 1951 U.N. Refugee Convention.

The number of refugees or asylum seekers rose by 700 percent in the year through June 2014 from the previous year, says the foreign ministry. That included 1,562 asylum seekers and 308 refugees.

(Reporting by Ranga Sirilal; Writing by Shihar Aneez; Editing by Larry King)

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