Sri Lanka ends visa-free travel for Pakistanis and arrests Refugees

The Sri Lankan government has cancelled the on-arrival visa facility for Pakistanis.

The decision was taken in view of the rising number of political asylum cases in Sri Lanka, Sri Lanka’s External Affairs Ministry has informed the Pakistan government about its decision to revoke the facility.

According to revised policy, Pakistanis seeking to visit Sri Lanka will now have to obtain visa before departing for the Island.

Sri Lankan daily Ceylon Today reported last week that nearly 1,500 Pakistanis, many of whom are registered with the United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, have been picked up by the Sri Lankan Department of Immigration and Emigration and the Criminal Investigation Department.

The UN’s refugee agency has sought an explanation from the Sri Lankan Government why large numbers of Pakistani asylum seekers are being arrested and detained – with local and UN officials making conflicting claims on the issue. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has also warned the Government that any deportations or expulsions would be in violation of international law – a principle called “non-refoulement”, which forbids the handing over of victims of persecution to their persecutors.

The Pakistani Foreign Office distanced itself from the reported arrests of registered Pakistani refugees and asylum seekers in Sri Lanka, but aid workers from the island nation have confirmed that Pakistani refugees are being rounded up by the authorities.

All of the detainees are males and majority of them belong to Ahmadiyya Muslim Community. There are also a few Christians and Shia Muslims, according to UNHCR sources. The detainees are being housed at the Boosa Terrorist Investigation Department (TID) detention facility.

According to PECA (Pakistani European Christian Alliance) after recent arrests by the Sri Lankan authorities UNHCR has expedited the Asylum process and since then 16 asylum seekers have been given refugee status which include 8 Christians and 8 Ahmadis.

Pakistan passport remains in bottom three along with Somalia and Afghanistan on Visa Restriction Index.