Australia’s hasty return of Sri Lankan asylum seekers puts them at risk of torture, rape and other mistreatment

In its rush to expel – via a sub-standard screening process – Sri Lankans who arrive in Australia by boat, Australia places those people at risk of torture, rape and ill treatment in Sri Lankan custody.

The Human Rights Law Centre has prepared a background briefing paper ahead of tonight’s screening of an SBS Dateline investigation highlighting how some failed asylum seekers returned to Sri Lanka by Australia have been abducted and abused by Sri Lankan security forces on their return.

Under international law, Australia cannot return a person to any place where they risk serious harm, including a risk of torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. Despite this, Australia uses a truncated, short-cut screening process for Sri Lankans that is designed to expedite the removal of asylum seekers and sidestep more rigorous processes for making refugee claims.

The HRLC’s Director of Advocacy and Research, Emily Howie, said around 1250 Sri Lankans have been returned in the last two years.

“The Immigration Department should stop denying Sri Lankans the opportunity to use the proper processes to make claims for protection. By using a flimsy screening process, Australia is being extremely reckless and risks placing men, women and children directly in danger,” said Ms Howie.’

The Background Briefing Paper details numerous reports of rape, torture and other serious ill-treatment of Sri Lankans who return home.

“The Sri Lankan security forces have a long and well-documented track record of torture and mistreatment in custody, including the rape of men and women. Australia is well aware of this track record, having raised it as a matter of concern at the UN in 2012,” said Ms Howie.

Despite this, the Australian Government has no effective or open process for monitoring the wellbeing of Sri Lankans that are returned.

In a shocking case revealed through FOI documents, an AFP officer in Sri Lanka declined to interview a returnee who claimed he had been severely tortured.

“Australia cannot claim that no returnees have been harmed when it has no way of knowing whether that claim is true. If the government is serious about its protection obligations, firstly it should provide Sri Lankans with genuine, fair procedures to claim asylum and secondly, is should actively monitor and ensure the wellbeing of the people it returns,” said Ms Howie.

The HRLC’s background brief is available here.

Earlier this year, the HRLC published an comprehensive report on the human rights impacts of Australia's interception and return of Sri Lankan asylum seekers.

For further information contact:
Emily Howie on 0421 370 997 or via