“I am scared they can deport me any day now, and if I am sent to Sri Lanka, the only future, I have is death,” Bhaskaran Kumarasamy, a Sri Lankan Tamil refugee who had fled to India in 2004, told me on 16 August. While Kumarasamy has spent 17 years on Indian soil, a series of conflicting court orders and actions of the Q Branch of the Tamil Nadu Police’s Criminal Investigation Department—a police outfit created to investigate terrorism and organised violence—have put a question mark on his status as a refugee, with the threat of deportation looming large. Kumarasamy is a former member of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, a separatist militant group fighting for an independent state for Tamils in Sri Lanka. Former LTTE members deported to Sri Lanka have previously disappeared. Human Rights Watch notes that thousands of Tamils are believed to have “disappeared” in Sri Lanka—the second highest enforced disappearances in the world.
Kumarasamy fled war-torn Sri Lanka in 2004 along with his wife, Sakuntala, and his two daughters, Sobana and Sobiha, then aged eight and six respectively. He had given up arms and left his home in Jaffna’s Nalloor area. The family had arrived in Rameshwaram, on the coast of Tamil Nadu, and were lodged in the Mandapam refugee camp. An Indian-government issued refugee identity card, a copy of which The Caravan has, shows that Kumarasamy and the three members of his family were recognised as refugees on 5 June 2004.
But on 23 June 2021, the Madras High Court ruled that Kumarasamy should cease to be recognised as a refugee. The court was hearing a plea he had submitted, requesting permission to visit the Swiss embassy in Delhi. Kumarasamy told me he was attempting to gain asylum in Switzerland because officials of the Q Branch had been threatening him with deportation for over two years—it had issued an official deportation order in November 2019. During the hearing, the high court accepted the Q Branch’s argument that Sri Lanka was safe for Tamil refugees, and opined that Indian refugees lose the limited protections they have if they ever leave the country. The 23 June judgement eased the process by which India can deport Kumarasamy to Sri Lanka.
The high court’s 23 June order came less than a year after the same court had ruled that Kumarasamy faced a credible threat to his life in Sri Lanka and should not be deported. The court’s judgement had come in response to another plea by Kumarasamy, to stay the 2019 deportation order. On 20 November that year, Kumarasamy had received an order signed by the Q Branch’s superintendent of police and also by the Sri Lankan deputy high commissioner in Chennai. The document, a copy of which The Caravan has, did not specify any reason for his deportation. Along with the deportation order, Kumarasamy was also given a paper passport—with a different passport number from the one he previously possessed—by the Sri Lankan High Commission in Chennai. It is unclear which government or agency took the initiative to deport Kumarasamy but the documents suggest that the Q Branch were working alongside the Sri Lankan government.
Kumarasamy filed a plea against the deportation order on the same day, and the order was stayed on 26 August 2020. In the stay order, the Madras High Court took cognisance of the fact that returning to Sri Lanka poses a credible threat to Kumarasamy. “For the past 13 years, he is in India. Moreover … his family members viz., father, brother, brother’s wife and daughter were murdered by the Srilankan Army,” the judgement noted. “Taking into consideration the above fact, it may not be in the interest of detenu to deport him at this point of time. Interest of justice would be achieved by granting interim direction to keep the deportation order in abeyance until further orders.”