By BosNewsLife Asia Service
ISLAMABAD/COLOMBO (BosNewsLife)-- Sri Lanka has begun sending Pakistani asylum seekers, including Christians, back to their home country where they may face the death penalty for blasphemy against Islam, rights investigators and United Nations officials say.
Colombo says the influx of illegal immigrants in the past year has become a burden on the Indian Ocean island's resources and has potentially compromised state and regional security.
The U.N. refugee agency complained that at least 88 Pakistanis have been sent home since August 1, after Sri Lankan authorities seized their passports and asylum-seeker certificates.
"By sending these people back, the government of Sri Lanka is in breach of its obligations under international law concerning the principle of no-forced-returns," said the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
Sri Lankan authorities have denied violating any such laws, saying that the country "is not a signatory to the 1951 U.N. Refugee Convention".
SRI LANKA COURT
A Sri Lankan court agreed and reportedly gave permission for authorities on September 1 to continue deporting Christians and other Pakistani asylum seekers, rejecting concerns expressed by a rights lawyer.
Lakshan Dias, a Sri Lankan lawyer, filed a petition on August 15 to secure an interim suspension of deportations, trial observers said.
Dias represents a Pakistani Christian woman who said her relatives were being sent back to Pakistan before the UNHCR could properly assess their claims for asylum.
"However, after hearing the case, the Court of Appeal ruled in favour of the government and ithdrew the interim order," said advocacy group Barnabas Fund, which closely followed the case.
Sri Lanka's government reportedly argued there was "evidence of Pakistanis committing crimes and bringing illness, specifically malaria, into the country."
The group added it was concerned about the future of deported Christians and other believers.
"Christians may be forced to flee Pakistan after false accusations of blasphemy [against Islam] which put them at risk of the death sentence and violence from radical Muslims. Others are displaced following anti-Christian violence against them or their communities."
Pakistan has come under pressure to change controversial blasphemy laws as several Christians have been on death row.
Among them is Asia Bibi, a jailed Christian mother of five who was was sentenced to death in November 2010. Her appeal hearing was postponed for the seventh time Tuesday, September 9, said Mushtaq Gill, the director of the Legal Evangelical Association Development (LEAD) group.
The lawyer told BosNewsLife that the next hearing is now scheduled for next month, October 16. Bibi, a worker who reportedly spoke about Jesus Christ with colleagues, has denied wrongdoing.