Sat, Nov 11, 2017 - Page 9 News List

Eight years after Sri Lanka’s civil war, Tamil refugees speak of recent torture and rape

A civil war that hit the nation’s Tamil majority hard ended in 2009, but men who have fled the country tell stories of abduction and sexual torture as recent as this year

By Paisley Dodds  /  AP, LONDON

Goldwyn assesses the men’s mental and physical health and often testifies in their asylum hearings. Branding and scars often make it easier to prove torture for an asylum claim, but it becomes more difficult to prove sexual abuse.

Canadian Legislator Gary Anandasangaree, who is of Tamil heritage, said there is a large degree of distrust from asylum seekers who fear for the families they left behind.

People who sought asylum in Canada had had calls to their families intercepted, he said, adding that the families in Sri Lanka were then questioned by the Criminal Investigations Department.

“The reports of recent torture are not surprising,” he said. “I heard similar stories on a visit last year.”

Although the men are relieved to be in Europe, asylum procedures can take years and even if granted, asylum is not necessarily permanent. Britain, like many countries, is buckling under pressure from anti-immigration groups.

For a 34-year-old taxi driver known as Witness #199, the fear of being rejected for asylum is crippling.

In 2014, while still in Sri Lanka, he visited his wife in the hospital after she gave birth to a son.

With the war behind him and a new life ahead, he said was overjoyed to be starting a family in his homeland — where he finally felt safe.

“After leaving the hospital, a man standing next to a white van started calling my name,” he said. “I wasn’t scared at that point so I just got in.”

The men asked him to pay a bribe and when he told them he could not pay, they released him on condition that he pay in two weeks, he said.

“My uncle said the men would keep coming back to ask for money, so he advised that it would be best if I left the country,” he said.

He fled to Switzerland, but was rejected for asylum eight months later.

Back home, he said he was visiting friends when he was abducted again.

This time, he was held for 23 days, branded with iron rods and raped after a group of men entered his cell and forced him to drink a bottle of alcohol, he said.

Some forced him to perform oral sex on them and beat him when he refused, and he lost consciousness, he said, adding that when he woke up, he was naked, covered in semen and bleeding from his rectum.

Seeing the bottle left in his cell, he broke it and tried to slash his wrists. Two days later, he was released and made his way to the UK.

Within days of arriving and applying for asylum, he tried to kill himself again, this time by drinking bleach, he said.

He has not seen his baby boy since he was born.

TORTURE ROOM

Some have cast doubt on the men’s stories, saying that the marks could have been caused during the war or even that the men could have inflicted the injuries themselves to gain sympathy on asylum applications — an assertion that medical and academic experts said is not credible.

Witness #203 said he was forced to join the Tigers as a child soldier at the age of 16.

He was studying to be a teacher when he found himself on the battlefield. For four months, he was tasked with collecting the body parts of fallen fighters killed in the extensive shelling soldiers so they could be buried.

Then, last year — seven years after the war ended — he said he was abducted in a white van and driven for two hours.

From his location, he said he believes he could have been taken to the notorious Joseph Camp, a military installation in the north of Sri Lanka that has been the source of numerous torture claims over the years.

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