A group of failed Sri Lankan Tamil asylum seekers have won the right to stay in the United Kingdom after the high court in London [ Images ] blocked their deportation scheduled for Thursday.
Lawyers for Tamils facing deportation claim the landmark decision applies to all other failed Tamil asylum seekers as well as those in detention, none of whom can be deported pending investigations into their claims that they will be subjected to torture in Sri Lanka [ Images ].
The UK Border Agency, however, stressed that the decision did "not represent a blanket ban on returns to Sri Lanka".
"We are disappointed with the outcome of this hearing and we will appeal," it added.
Human rights groups have maintained that Tamils sent back earlier have been tortured.
A Human Rights Watch report released earlier this week had claimed that Sri Lankan security forces were using violence to torture suspected members or supporters of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.
The report had also accused the British government of continuing to deport failed asylum seekers back to Sri Lanka despite mounting evidence that they face the risk of being raped and tortured on their return, nearly four years after the end of the island's civil war.
The Sri Lankan government denies these claims.
An immigration tribunal in Britain has been hearing evidence on the wider question of the situation in Sri Lanka and its deliberations will be used to update UK Home Office guidance on the risks of returning people to the island.
In his high court ruling this week, Justice Wilkie said that because the guidance on Sri Lanka was being considered "virtually afresh" and it was clear that "the existing country guidance will have to change," the failed Tamil asylum seekers could not be deported as planned.
"That position is one which this court cannot simply blind itself to," he said.
It is believed this is the first time a UK court has blocked the deportation of a group of Tamils to Sri Lanka, although many individuals over the last 18 months have won last-minute court injunctions preventing their return.
"The UKBA's removals policy for Sri Lankan Tamils remains deeply flawed. Until this is remedied many in need of the UK's protection still live with the risk of forced return to torture," said Keith Best, chief executive of rights group Freedom from Torture.
Sri Lankan forces had crushed the LTTE [ Images ] in May 2009 after nearly three decades of brutal fighting. The conflict claimed up to 1,00,000 lives, according to UN estimates, and both sides are accused of war crimes.
Sri Lanka has always denied allegations that it targeted civilians during the war and resisted calls for an independent inquiry, establishing its own Lessons Learned and Reconciliation Commission.
Next month, the United States is set to move a second resolution at the UN Human Rights Council, pressing Colombo to probe its military for crimes committed during the last phase of the war.