GENEVA/COLOMBO (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Sri Lanka is violating international law by deporting Pakistani asylum seekers by force and without allowing the United Nations to assess their asylum claims, the U.N. refugee agency said on Tuesday.
Colombo says the influx of illegal immigrants in the past year has become a burden on the Indian Ocean island's resources and has potentially compromised state and regional security.
The UNHCR said 88 Pakistanis have been sent home since Aug. 1, with Sri Lankan authorities seizing their passports and asylum-seeker certificates before sending them back to Pakistan.
"By sending these people back, the government of Sri Lanka is in breach of its obligations under international law concerning the principle of no-forced-returns," the UNHCR said.
The refugee agency urged Sri Lanka to stop the deportations immediately and to give U.N. officials access to scores of other asylum seekers who are currently in detention to assess whether they required international protection.
According to UNHCR guidelines to countries, members of religious minorities including Ahmadiyya Muslims, Christians and Shias in Pakistan, may be in need of protection and require particularly careful examination of their asylum claims.
It said there are 157 asylum seekers - 84 Pakistanis, 71 Afghans and two Iranians - in detention in Sri Lanka.
Chulananda Perera, the controller of Sri Lanka's Immigration and Emigration Department, said authorities were deporting at least 10 people every day because they had come on tourist visas and had overstayed.
"They are not sent forcibly. It is the practice all over the world. If they have overstayed, we have to send them back."
Sri Lankan authorities in June cancelled an on-arrival visa facility for Pakistani nationals after they said they found asylum seekers misusing the facility to enter into Sri Lanka.
Earlier this month, Sri Lanka's Foreign Ministry said the number of refugees or asylum seekers had risen by 700 percent in the 2013/14 period. There were 1,562 asylum seekers and 308 refugees as of June 30, it added.
(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay and Ranga Sirilal; Writing by Shihar Aneez; Editing by Nita Bhalla and Alison Williams)