A Sri Lankan Tamil asylum seeker who claims to have suffered extensive torture before escaping to the UK has won a last minute reprieve just hours before he was due forcibly deported to Sri Lanka.
Kannan Kalimuththu, a 36 year old former policemen with the Tamil Tiger (LTTE) separatist rebels, has already attempted to commit suicide on two occasions and is said to be on permanent suicide watch in the UK’s highest security Immigration Removal Centre at Colnbrook, near Heathrow.
A psychiatrist’s had warned that deportation was “very likely” to cause his mental health to “deteriorate dramatically” and leave him at “high risk of suicide”.
Tonight lawyers for Mr Kalimuththu successfully applied for emergency injunction to stop his deportation.
The ruling means he cannot be deported until his case his re-heard – a process which could take a few weeks.
Mr Kalimuththu survived Sri Lanka’s brutal civil war which ended in 2009 in a bloodbath in which tens of thousands of civilians died – most killed by government shelling although the Tigers too stand accused of committing serious war crimes.
Mr Kalimuththu, who lost several members of his family during the fighting, was separated from his wife and child at the end of the war when he surrendered to government forces.
He says he has no idea what has happened to them or even if they are still alive six years later.
After his capture in 2009, Mr Kalimuththu was held in one of Sri Lanka’s most notorious military-run Sri Lankan detention centres until 2014.
He claims that in this time he was tortured for weeks on end and on multiple occasions.
Treatment included being beaten with plastic pipes filled with sand and wooden batons and electric shocks through the tips of his thumbs.
He claims that on other occasions he was kicked on the chest, stripped naked, locked into a small dark room and given very little food and water.
One person who saw Mr Kalimuththu two days ago described him as being in a “terrible” state.
“He was clearly severely traumatised, very withdrawn and avoided any eye contact. I am very seriously worried about his safety,” she said.
Nightmares and flashbacks
She described how Kalimuththu was suffering from nightmares and flashbacks and said he was constantly disturbed by thinking he could hear his son and wife crying out to him.
He would often awake screaming at night and she feared that as a torture survivor he is constantly re-traumatised by being in detention.
“He’s scared of the men in uniform, he avoids wires and cables and feels under surveillance. I find it beyond belief that the UK is contemplating forcibly deporting this man. It is shameful.”
In November last year Mr Kalimuththu attempted to hang himself using a ligature and a bed-sheet tied to a second floor bannister in Coinbrook Immigration Removal Centre, near Harmondsworth.
He was rescued by another resident who held his legs while raising the alarm.
He appeared to lose consciousness and was taken to hospital. One psychiatrist who examined Mr Kalimuththu on two occasions at the request of his legal counsel concluded that the attempt was “serious with the clear intent to die”.
That same psychiatrist also concluded that he is currently “severely depressed and hopeless” He said he was highly suicidal and that his PTSD symptoms have worsened due to fear of deportation. He warns that if he is departed his condition will “deteriorate dramatically” and that this would leave him at “high risk of suicide”.
“The fact that there has been a recent change of governments in Sri Lanka doesn’t mean that people with his profile won’t be tortured, since the police have not been reformed and the views of former Tamil Tigers haven’t changed,” he said.
Convention against torture
Pointing out that the UK is a party to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment which forbids expelling someone “where there are substantial grounds for believing that he would be in danger of being subjected to torture,” Adams pointed to the Sri Lankan state’s long and well documented record of violations of human rights and the use of torture.
“Until the Sri Lankan government demonstrates that it has definitively ceased its practice of torturing those suspected of LTTE links, the UK must impose a moratorium on returns of people with this profile,” he said.
Before hearing of the injunction, a spokesman for the Home Office insisted that the UK has a “proud history” of granting asylum to those who need protection.
“Each claim is carefully considered on its individual merits against up-to-date country information, relevant case law and any policy guidance specific to the type of claim,” he said.
“However, when someone is found not to need our protection we expect them to leave at the earliest opportunity. If they do not, we will enforce their removal. Last June then Foreign Secretary William Hague pledged to investigate claims that Tamil Asylum seekers were being returned despite evidence they had been subjected to sexual violence and torture.”
“Where people have a valid point, a valid complaint, we will take it up. This is something the whole government feels strongly about. So be in no doubt: where there are issues, we will investigate them.”
Mr Kalimuththu will now have to await for a further hearing to decide his fate. That is likely to take a few weeks, but his lawyers insist that his case is so clear and so strong that it would be a travesty if he were not now allowed to stay.
Callum Macrae (@Callum_Macrae) is the director of No Fire Zone: The Killing Fields of Sri Lanka (NoFireZone.org)