Asylum cases expose Tigers' ransom trail
USA: A Sri Lankan fisherman who was kidnapped by the LTTE and forced
to pay US$ 500 is now in a federal detention centre in New Jersey
awaiting a decision on his asylum application.
He is accused of giving the LTTE about $500 and denied asylum. But he
says the payment was ransom to secure his release after being kidnapped
by the group.
The government says the 32-year-old refugee, identified only as
"R-K-" in court records, gave the LTTE about US$ 500 two years ago and
has denied his request for asylum.
But R-K- says in court papers that he had no choice: The payment was
ransom to secure his release after the Tigers kidnapped him.
He said the Tigers showed up at his home in Jaffna demanding his
fishing boat in November 2004, court documents say.
He refused and three days later they kidnapped him, took him to their
camp and held him for a couple of days until he agreed to pay about
$1,000 in ransom, according to his attorney, Joseph Devamithran.
He had paid about half, but the Asian tsunami struck before he could
pay the balance, wiping out his boat, house and livelihood. Terrified,
he left his wife behind in hopes of gaining asylum in Canada, his
His case illustrates the legal paradox confronting hundreds of other
refugees seeking asylum in the United States, according to a report
released Tuesday from the advocacy group Human Rights First.
Under the USA Patriot Act and other laws, immigrants who provide
"material support" to a terrorist group are automatically barred from
gaining asylum - even if they helped those organisations against their
will or under duress.
Being forced to aid terrorists, however, is often the reason many
"It takes the very harm people suffered and turns that into a reason
for denying them protection," said Anwen Hughes, a Human Rights First
staff attorney who helped author the report.
"It's treating victims of terrorism like terrorists."
The report says at least 565 asylum seekers - many of them ethnic and
religious minorities fleeing violence in countries such as Myanmar,
Colombia and Nepal - have had their cases put on hold as a result of the
Also on hold are another 700 requests for residency from refugees
previously granted asylum or refugees status.
Department of Homeland Security representatives had no comment
Wednesday on the report.
The case of the Sri Lankan fisherman stuck in New Jersey has prompted
Human Rights First to make legal filings on his behalf.
Before reaching Canada, he was stopped at the airport in Newark,
N.J., after his plane landed in February 2005.
Since then, he's been held in a federal detention center.