In October 2021, a group of Tamil asylum seekers who claimed that they are fleeing persecution in Sri Lanka were rescued by the British Royal Navy and taken to Diego Garcia, a British territory in the Indian Ocean. The asylum seekers were then held in a fenced encampment on the island for over a year.
In March 2022, the BIOT commissioner issued a decision that the asylum seekers could be lawfully returned to Sri Lanka. The asylum seekers challenged these decisions, arguing that they were at risk of persecution if they were returned to Sri Lanka.
The decision by the BIOT commissioner to withdraw the removal orders for the asylum seekers on Diego Garcia is a significant victory for the asylum seekers and their supporters.
It means that the asylum seekers will now have their protection claims assessed afresh by reviewers who have had no previous involvement in their case.
The decision also has wider implications for asylum seekers in the UK. It sends a message that the UK government is willing to uphold its international obligations to protect refugees from persecution.
The decision is also a reminder of the importance of judicial oversight of government decision-making. The asylum seekers were able to challenge the BIOT commissioner’s decision in court, and the court found that the commissioner had not properly considered the asylum seekers’ protection claims.
Implications for the future
The decision by the BIOT commissioner is a positive step for the asylum seekers on Diego Garcia. However, it is important to note that the asylum seekers have not yet been granted asylum in the UK. They will still need to have their protection claims assessed afresh by the reviewers.