UK halts deportation of Sri Lankan torture victim
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UK halts deportation of Sri Lankan torture victim

By Laura Hughes

A last-minute emergency injunction has stopped the deportation of a former Tamil Tiger policeman who says he spent five years being tortured in detention after the civil war from the UK.

Kannan was transferred to the mentally disturbed unit, after refusing to eat for three days. He was under surveillance and told to prepare for deportation.

He arrived in the UK six months ago and spent his entire time in an immigration detention centre, never stepping foot in the outside world.

Kannan has been represented by Jein Solicitors, which waived its fees to work on this case. His lawyer says he’s been so traumatised by the experience of being locked up again that he’s been unable to build a case for asylum or function competently when questioned about his torture.

Kannan, who was tortured at the notorious military-run Joseph Camp in Vavuniya, says he feels he is under constant surveillance in the detention centre, and is having nightmares and flashbacks of men in uniforms and “female corpses floating back across the lagoon in March 2009”.

Kannan has tried to kill himself twice, once in Sri Lanka when he attempted to hang himself with his sarong and another time in the UK when he attempted to jump off the third floor of the detention centre.

An independent expert medical report and another psychiatric report corroborate Kannan’s account of being a survivor of torture and said  there was a very high risk he will try to kill himself if returned to Sri Lanka. The psychiatrist said he was not fit to fly.

“You know what they will do to me if I am sent back – they will abduct me in a white van and kill me,” said Kannan, a tall, slender man who finds it hard to make eye contact and is visibly distressed and withdrawn.

It was only in the last week that he finally told a Tamil visitor, Ambi Seevaratnam, he had been repeatedly tortured in Sri Lanka over many years.

“I was with him for over six hours, I went there to take a statement, but I couldn’t complete it because he was traumatised,” she said.

“They have handcuffed him and there is somebody sitting next to him all the time. He is really distressed and he says they have handcuffed him to prevent him committing suicide, he told me, ‘I don’t even have the freedom to take my own life.’

Under Rule 35 of the Detention Centre Rules detainees in the immigration system are screened by a doctor for signs of torture, however experts say they often see doctors failing to fully examine people.

Laura Smith, an Immigration Advisor at Kesar and Co Solicitors, says she believes more Tamil cases are being pushed for deportation in the run up to the election.

“I really do think more Tamil cases are being pushed for deportation these days and other people are saying it as well,” she said. “I have quite a few Tamil cases, they’ve been delayed for years and then just last month its been absolutely constant. They are all taking action on Tamils at all stages and there is a strong felling its because of the election.”

Kannan hasn’t seen or heard from his wife and son for six years and is appealing to anyone who might know of their whereabouts in Sri Lanka.

Meanwhile, reports from Sri Lanka say that members of Kannan’s family have suffered harassment since the injunction.

Last week new Sri Lankan President Mathripala Sirisena met with David Cameron. Many believe the new regime is safer, however Frances Harrison, author of ‘Still Counting The Dead’ said, “it’s much too early to assume entrenched structures of repression have been dismantled overnight in Sri Lanka.

“Torture survivors here say their families back home in Sri Lanka are still being questioned, visited and harassed by the security forces well after the 8 January elections which brought in a new government.

“There are still reports of arrests of Tamils suspected of involvement in the LTTE in the past – both at the airport and in the north and east. Everyone hopes things will improve but it’s early days yet  – and it’s even theoretically possible the Rajapaksas could come back to power in parliamentary polls.

“I am truly ashamed of how we treat the most vulnerable and desperate people who expect better from this country”. ​