During a protracted civil war that dragged on for nearly thirty years in Sri Lanka, the UN estimates that some 80,000 to 100,000 people were killed. Many victims had no ties to any of the armed groups, but got caught in the crossfire. The war officially ended in 2009, but ethnic Tamils continue to be subjected to mass arrests, prolonged detention without trial, torture, enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings.
Six of these ethnic Tamils have been detained at the Broward Detention Center since the summer of 2010; nearly 2-years. All six were on their way to unite with family in Canada who, fleeing the same fate had successfully petitioned for Asylum there. Despite strong cases for asylum all six men have had their applications rejected by Judge Rex Ford. All six men qualify for discretion which is why I ask that you immediately release them.
At the young age of 33, Muththiah Lavathas had to bury his own father. In 2003, his father was kidnapped by the military and only released after the family paid an exorbitant ransom. A year later, on September 9, 2004, as Muththiah and his father were returning from their fields after inspecting their vegetables an assassin on a motorcycle shot Muththiah’s father four times in the chest. Until this day Muththiah doesn’t know who killed his father, but he believes the military likely hired one of several paramilitary groups to commit the murder. After the killing the family began to receive threatening calls, so Muththiah fled to Sri Lanka’s capital city, in 2006. He tried to apply for refugee status through the Swiss embassy, without luck. At the end of 2009, after police “disappeared” his close friend, Muththiah fled the country, fearing he too would be arrested, tortured and killed by the police.
Panchalingam Ragutharan never expected to be separated from his loved ones at his mere 20 years of age. In August of 2009 he was beaten and tortured by Sinhalese soldiers at Annakodai Army Camp. One month later, at a different military camp named Crow Island, he was once again tortured and deprived of food for four days, before being released. In early 2010 members of the Eelam’s People Democratic Party (EPDP), a pro-government paramilitary group demanded that Panchalingam join their ranks or else they kill his entire family. For months his family received threatening calls, until they finally decided Panchalingam should leave the country and seek asylum elsewhere.
Gerald Dickoning (34) was a well-known and beloved professional soccer player in his region. A local Tamil political party wanted him to endorse their candidate in an upcoming election. As the local election neared, Gerald began to get phone calls threatening him and his family. The aggressive threats demanded that he immediately stop handing out the political flyers; or face lethal consequences. Gerald obliged, however a few weeks later the Tamil party won several seats in the parliamentary elections; angering the Sinhalese establishment. In February of 2010, Gerald Dickoning, barely escaped an attempted kidnapping in Mannar, northwest Sri Lanka, and went into hiding. After barely escaping a second kidnapping attempt near his home, his family instructed him seek asylum abroad. Reluctantly, Gerald fled Sri Lanka, hoping to send for his wife and young son, once he was safely established abroad.
In the final months of the Sri Lankan civil war Vaitheeswaran Banusanthar’s family was forced to leave their home and seek temporary refuge at the Vavuniya Refugee camp. Vaitheeswaran (23) was subjected to various brutal beatings by military and agents from the Criminal Investigations Department (CID), who were questioning all young Tamil men to try and root out any Tamil militant sympathizers. Seven months later, in November 2009, the Banusanthars were allowed to leave the camp, but found their home had been completely flattened by shelling and bombing. They had lost everything. The Banusanthars had to begin from nothing to try to rebuild their lives. In June 2010 six heavily armed paramilitaries forced their way into their home and tried to extort this impoverished family. As the intruders left, they warned that they would kidnap Vaitheeswaran and kill the rest of the family if they failed to pay. Another family three houses down received the same visit that night; and a few days later the army kidnapped the eldest son. The Banusanthars immediately sent Vaitheeswaran to Colombo, and three days later he fled Sri Lanka.
As early as September 2007 Satkunathan Jasotharan (25) was getting threatening calls from the Karuna paramilitary group, demanding extortion money. The next year, the People’s Liberation Organization of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE) tried to forcefully conscript Satkunathan into their ranks. To avoid joining the PLOTE, Satkunathan fled to India for a few months. When he retuned to Sri Lanka in 2009 Satkunathan went to visit Colombo, where his siblings were enrolled in university. En route, he was detained at a military checkpoint and was taken to Colombo 6 army camp. For the next five days, he was beaten and constantly questioned, as the military suspected him to be a Tamil Tiger fighter. After a desperate search, his parents tracked him down at the army base and were forced to pay the top officer 50,000 rupees (almost $900) to secure their son’s release. His problems did not end there. In April of 2010, the PLOTE once again threatened the family. Satkunathan saw no other option then flee Sri Lanka.
For these six Tamil men, their nightmares’ did not end when they left Sri Lanka. As a Tamil, even securing a Sri Lankan passport from the Sinhalese government can be too risky. Many Tamils have to pay smugglers a lot of money to get them from their island nation to their final destination. En route to Canada, in December of 2010, US federal agencies raided the Miami house where these 6 men were temporarily staying. They have since been detained at Broward Transitional Center for the past 22 months! For nearly two years they have tried to make their case for asylum before the infamous immigration judge, Rex J. Ford, who has denied asylum to more than 90% of all the asylum cases he has heard. If they are deported back to Sri Lanka, they face the very real threat of being killed by the same groups who they fled.
According to the memo issued by John Morton, these six men are low-priority cases and should be released immediately and granted favorable exercise of prosecutorial discretion. These six men were fleeing for their lives from extreme ethnic violence, only to be apprehended and then detained for past 22 months.