Et tu, Ukraine?
The UNHCR and Amnesty International have both expressed concern over the forced return (refoulement) by Ukraine of a group of eleven Sri Lankan asylum seekers. Particularly disturbing is the fact that six of them had applied for refugee status in Ukraine. Their applications were apparently turned down on procedural grounds yet it would seem that they were not provided with the assistance they absolutely required to ensure proper consideration of their applications.
The following is the statement released by the UNHCR.
The UN refugee agency expressed concern on Friday about the forced return (refoulement) by Ukraine of a group of eleven Sri Lankan asylum seekers. The expulsions took place on Tuesday 4 and Wednesday 5 March, 2008. The eleven Sri Lankans were returned to Colombo via Dubai
The eleven were registered and provided with documentation by UNHCR in Kyiv in December 2007, but were apprehended and detained because they had entered into Ukraine illegally. On several occasions, UNHCR requested that these individuals be granted effective access to an examination of the substance of their asylum claims.
UNHCR is concerned about the violation of the fundamental procedural rights of this group. As a signatory to the 1951 UN Refugee Convention, Ukraine should have provided access to interpreters, legal representation and the right to appeal against the expulsion order, as well as an effective access to asylum procedures.
UNHCR reiterates the importance of the principle of non-refoulement, under which no refugee or asylum seeker should be forcibly returned to their country of origin, in accordance with international and Ukrainian law.
7 March 2008 UNHCR Press Releases
More information is obviously needed as is a response from the Ukrainian authorities both to Ukrainians and to the international community as to how this could have happened yet again.
In February 2006 Ukraine forcibly returned 11 asylum seekers to Uzbekistan. The scandal which ensued should have taught the authorities something. Instead they seem to have simply tried to keep their heads low, coming up with different improbable stories, until the scandal died down.
And now theyve done it again. The circumstances are different however the principle of non-refoulement is binding on all countries.
It may also be necessary to consider how all organizations working to prevent human rights violations should work together. It would seem that negotiations were underway and presumably it was thought unlikely that the authorities would take such an outrageous step.
If the authorities are prepared to violate principles of international law, then we should perhaps ensure maximum publicity before it is too late.
Once people have been sent back to countries where their lives may be in danger or they may face torture, however much we berate the authorities it is too late to help their victims.
This must be prevented.
And the authorities must be shown that the scandal will not die down, and that we will demand answers.