British court blocks deportations of dozens of Tamils

Dozens of failed Tamil asylum seekers who were due to be sent back to Sri Lanka on Thursday can stay in Britain after a court blocked their deportation over fears of torture, their lawyers said.

The High Court in London blocked the deportations at a last-minute hearing on Wednesday pending investigations into claims that the Tamils could face abuse if they were sent back to Sri Lanka.

Solicitor Kulasegaram Geetharthanan said the case involved some 40 Tamils, some of whom had links to the Tamil Tiger rebels who were finally crushed by Sri Lankan government forces in 2009 after more than three decades of civil war.

"Their cases are now being reviewed," he told AFP.

"There is a lot of evidence that these people could face torture if they are sent back."

The Sri Lankan government denies allegations that Tamils who have previously been sent home have been abused.

The UK Border Agency said it was "disappointed" by the ruling and would appeal against it.

"The ruling does not represent a blanket ban on returns to Sri Lanka," a spokesman added.

Geetharthanan, who is representing five of the Tamil asylum seekers, said his clients were currently being held in immigration detention centres and would apply for bail in the next week.

This is believed to be the first time that a British court has blocked the deportation of a group of Tamils to Sri Lanka, although many individuals have won similar cases over the last two years.

An estimated 100,000 people were killed between 1972 and May 2009, when security forces declared victory over the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) rebels who were fighting for an independent homeland.

The New York-based Human Rights Watch group alleged on Wednesday that Sri Lankan security forces continue to use rape and other forms of sexual violence to torture suspected Tamil rebels nearly four years after the end of the war.

Sri Lanka's military dismissed the HRW report but said there had been five cases of sexual violence alleged to have been committed by seven soldiers between 2007 and May 2009, the height of fighting during the war.

Sri Lanka's military has routinely dismissed allegations of war crimes as an attempt to discredit them by remnants of the Tamil Tigers.