Inside UNHCR and Sri Lanka
A must read for all those who are facing persecution in their country and are planning to seek Asylum.
I belong to a conservative Pashtun family of Pakistan. We believe that we Pashtuns are children of Israel. Israel Jacob (Hazrat Yaqoob) was the son of Isaac who was the son of Abraham.
Currently I face persecution in Sri Lanka.
I was writing a book on terrorism in Pakistan. Upon receiving serious threat to our life we fled to Sri Lanka on 1st January 2012.
In an attempt to get immediate asylum I went to an embassy of a western country and tried to impress them with my book and information on terrorism. I over stated my financial position and played down on my threat to life so that they should take me for an asset and not a liability. It did not work.
I started my website and started writing about very sensitive human rights issues mainly involving Pakistan Security forces. Pakistan did not like it.
After a few days we went and got registered with UNHCR Colombo.
UNHCR staff member a translator met us in Macdonald’s Clolpetia and told us that we should go back to Pakistan as UNHCR will not give us asylum.
We were very upset and I posted that on UNHCR Facebook.
I talked to a protection officer Tanga about it. She was alarmed she took a promise from me that I would not talk about it.
Our interview with UNHCR was delayed for a very long time.
Finally we were called for an interview after a year.
Interview was exactly the opposite of what I was expecting from UNHCR.
However the translator lady once the harbinger of a bad news was very professional and the one conducting the interview was just the opposite.
She was shouting, no eye contact no judgment skills above all not really interested. She asked me about my unpublished book on terrorism, I told her it’s in my Google Docs, she did not ask me to produce it though I could have done it right there, yet made it my failure point that I did not show her the book.
Her last question
“where I was living in Pakistan” was very disappointing.
After this interview UNHCR failed us
I started contacting UNHCR and through many emails I tried to explain my highly dangerous situation.
My church Brother arranged a lawyer for me for my appeal against the initial decision of UNHCR.
However after listening to my story and going through my blog the lawyer looked visibly upset, perhaps he found it hard to help a girl who has written extensively about Sri Lankan friendly Pakistan Security forces.
We started receiving wrong calls, I was followed on the road. I knew I was exposed. No need to hide my identity, I started bogging with my own name.
Horrified we went to women in need center and asked for shelter, they agreed but later changed their mind after speaking to UNHCR.
They were told by UNHCR Colombo in advance that we were failed with UNHCR though I had just filed an appeal against the initial decision of the UNHCR.
I called the senior protection officer MR. Greagory Baalke he got very upset and kept telling me that it was very wrong to call him on his cell. He said ‘”You will be called to the office for an interview or for other reasons” indicating that we might not get a chance for an appeal interview and will be called to receive another failure decision.
I was horrified what if UNHCR fails us, our permission to stay in Sri Lanka will come to an immediate end.
On Saturday 9th March 2013 a bunch of immigration officers around 20 of them came to our rented house in Colombo.
They were banging and kicking on the door and threatened to break the door open.
They were banging and kicking on the door and threatened to break the door open. They wanted to take us to the detention centre.
We did not open the door, instead took our documents and money and taking a risk for our life jumped from the 2nd floor balcony in to the neighbor’s house. We went to another city Kandy.
We stayed there for few days and kept calling UNHCR.
UNHCR protection officer told me
“Do not do a drama come back to your home. you are registered with UNHCR, immigration cannot touch you”
Trusting them like I trusted Mr Pony we came back to Colombo.
We were arrested by the help of the well briefed taxi drivers present there and a traffic police man. I fell down crowd present there touched me all over. Someone pulled my heavy gold chain.
Immigration officers arrived very late and took us to Dahi wala police station.
They kept joking with each other about our earlier escape.
Police officials present there looked very sympathetic to us. They kept telling us that we have no concern with them. It is immigration matter and they can’t interfere.
We were taken to Mirihana detention center. An officer shouted at me
“you give our information to India.’’ I was shocked I don’t know a single person from India I am a stranger in Sri Lanka with zero knowledge of their places aand language what was he talking about.
Mr Amit Prerara of immigration took our passports and UNHCR stay permition letter. What happened to our valuables and all we had at home still remains unanswered.
When he walked away with our passports in his hands, my heart sank.
I called UNHCR .They were hiding.
It was UNHCR staff who persuaded us to come back to our home. I lost all my trust in them. They were not any different than Mr Pony.
UNHCR was neither answering my emails nor my calls.
We were told by an officer in the Detention center that deportation case is being filed against us To my horror I came to know that we were being involved in madeup cases.
We were told,
“ISI head contacted Sri Lankan intelligence Head about You
Siri Laankan intelligence Head is investigating about you
CID special team is involved in your case”
We were accused of being spies.
Head of intelligence and Defence Gotabhaya Rajapaksa
I was scared to death and had a minor heart attack. I stayed in the hospital for four days.
I called UNHCR Geneva from the hospital and spoke to the official responsible for Sri Lanka. He spoke to me very kindly and promised me that he will talk to UNHCR Colombo.
The next day when I called him he had already spoken to UNHCR Colombo, he banged the phone on me.
I started calling Human rights organizations for Refugees in Sri Lanka, all of them told me they were only working for internally displaced people.
A doctor in the hospital told me that they have been told that I am a spy and should be discharged as soon as possible.
I called Brother Andrew and asked for his help. He said, "Police came to my house to know about you, now you have been declared a criminal and it’s a crime to help criminals”
My ECG report was not clear, and with hyper cholesterol level I was sent back to the detention center. My Eco report was withheld.
We stayed in the illegal detention for one month as if UNHCR did not exist.
Finally, out of three of us only I was called for an appeal interview.
The interviewer was under great stress. I came from the detention center but surprisingly the lady who was interviewing me was in no better condition than I was.
She told me that she will not record the interview, when I objected she agreed to make a recording.
She threw her 1st question which was very well prepared and had another set of multiple sub questions inside it. She was supposed to ask me all these questions one by one but she chose to ask all of them in one go. I tried my best to answer the main question and the multiple attached questions, she started shouting, an argument started and she closed the recording machine for a while.
She was bent upon discussing my life in Pakistan while after coming to Sri Lanka threat to our life had increased many folds.
I noticed that she was avoiding discussing the high level of threat to my life due to conversion to Christianity and writing against the security forces. Horrified I spoke loudly about these genuine threats and requested UNHCR to protect us.
Her body language was of a helpless employee who knew that she was wrong but was asked to work on my failure.
In the end when the interview was over, she told me in a low tone.
“WE DO LISTEN TO OTHERS WHILE TAKING DECISION”
I was told to go back to detention center. I refused and started crying very loudly but was forced to return.
I knew something very suspicious was going on.
I decided to flee from the detention center. I started going for early morning walks to be familiar with the place.
The area had hundreds of Police officials, It seemed impossible to flee from there but surprisingly police men were very friendly.
It was not my smartness but their kindness that we 3 family members managed to get out from there. They clearly differentiated between criminals and fateful asylum seekers.
I love Sri Lankan Police.
In the beginning immigration officers were bent upon taking us to Bosa (jail) they were refused by the police department. Why immigration was so much active against us, who was behind the scene God knows.
As we left the detention center we went to a hotel to stay but I was extremely sick and was coughing very badly the hotel staff got very suspicious about us. We tricked them and left the hotel.
We went to Red Cross International office and asked for protection they refused to intervene with the big House (UNHCR) and advised us to go to UNHCR office which was closed by, We did not go there. We had no more trust in UNHCR Colombo.
We went from one place to another without knowing where we were going.
I kept calling UNHCR and kept updating them with our tender situation but they did not help.
I started calling UNHCR Geneva. One of the legal advisers told me that we should go and start living with a priest. I told her that we want the protection of a State not of a priest.
Another officer in UNHCR Geneva with a distinctive voice and with a native accent asked me where I was? I told him that we were in Trinco Malee. The officer did not get the word right for a long time he kept saying what drinko Malee…….. what krinko mala… later when he got it right he said
“go to the UN office there a big conference is taking place there, they will protect You.”
It was heart breaking.
UNHCR Geneva kept convincing me that we should go to UNHCR Colombo but we refused. We were once bitten a hundred times shy.
If we go there, they will give us the fail paper and call immigration officers…….. So if there is no promise of asylum, there is no going to UNHCR.
Once we were physically attacked by a drunk house owner. We informed UNHCR nothing happened.
In June 20 13 the same man with a distinctive voice and native accent busted with anger on the phone. He said “ We did not come to you . you came to us”
I told him I came to you because you are UNHCR.
He said “your case is very famous everybody knows why you came to Sri Lanka”
Another lady from UNHCR Geneva told me “’ your case is very complicated the decision can be positive as well as negative ‘’
I got the cell number of Melissa Fleming the spoke person of UNHCR from her Google Plus account and called her I called her. She kept shouting at me and kept asking me how I got her number.
After this I lost all my trust in UNHCR. I deleted all the articles written on sensitive issues. It was my work because of which UNHCR Google plus and Human rights watch Google plus and Unicef Google plus had added me to their limited friends circles but when I got trapped no one was there to help me. I remained in touch with Amnesty International UK and kept begging them to help me but to no avail.
Bottom line message I got from all these Human rights organizations was,
“UNHCR is God we cannot interfere with them. They cannot make a mistake. If they do not accept you no one can save your life”.
I was disappointed and due to extreme fear my weight went from 60 kg to 40 kg. My mother and my sister also lost lot of weight.
My little sister Amala who has amazing computer skills rose to the occasion. She told me that she will save us all. Now she is very active on the internet running a campaign to save our life.
Once again I started looking for options to stay in Sri Lanka.
I called Deputy Controller of Immigration; he immediately recognized me and asked about my location. I asked him whether he will return my passport if I send someone from my Church with authority letter, he said no. I further asked him if I get married to a foreigner will he return my passport so that I can leave Sri Lanka?... His answer was inhuman he said
“No, Why did you come to Sri Lanka”
Oh world tell me with nowhere to go, should we be buried alive?!
On Sunday September 1 2013…. Another bomb shell fell on me. I was in touch with Mr Bandara Assistant Controller of immigration. I had earlier requested him to talk to authorities to give us asylum in Sri Lanka.
He told me,
“Special Forces are looking for you. Mr.Perera General Controller of immigration held a meeting with UNHCR Colombo on Wednesday in which Mr.Perera was clearly told by UNHCR that they are not granting you refugee status.”
He further told me,
“change Your current location immediately escape… escape. this call must be getting traced. I will secretly give you your passports run to India.”
I was horrified and had sudden pain in my chest I became very sick. I am a patient of thyroid with heart problems.My little sister Amala called UNHCR Colombo and asked them what was going on. UNHCR had recently sent me an email informing me that my asylum decision has been taken and the information I will receive will be to my benefit.
The big house failed to answer my 11 years old sister what conspiracy was being cooked between UNHCR and Sri Lankan authorities. It remains unknown why Sri Lankanauthorities are doing this andwho is behind all this.
Definitely There is more going on than I know.All the human rights organizations including UNHCR know that we are in hiding for the last 5 months. We are walking dead with an alarming level of threat from Sri lanka as we bleed theychoose to be silent spectators.
On OCTOBER 14 My mother decided to go to UNHCR Colombo and beg them once more to protect us. That was the last time we saw her . We were all crying as she left. She came back empty handed to the empty place. We left the place because of the fear of Sri Lankan authorities.
I bought a sharp knife and planned to stab myself infront of UNHCR. Later I canceled this as I thought That UNHCR will even then not help me.
I bought blades and cut myself in a live youtube video. It was not to harm myself but to be known and to be helped. Nothing happened..
After few days a new RSD officer Ilija Todorovic came to UNHCR Colmbo He was an angel in disguise. He went through our case once again and announced asylum for me My night mare came to an end.
It was 29th Noember 2014. By now I was exhausted with my struggles to live. I received an Email from Ilija Todorovic. I had never heard of him. I called him. He informed me that he has granted Refugee status to me. I did not believe my ears and repeated his words. It was the happiest moment of my life.
NOW NO MORE COMPLAINTS AGAINST UNHCR If UNHCR has Ilija Todorovic UNHCR has a lot.
Ilija Todorovic Senior RSD officer in UNHCR Colombo
Ilija Todorovic 2nd from left in Afghanistan
On February 10,2014 he also gave asylum to my mother and my sister Amala despite lots of resistance from local Sri Lankan staff. It was again newly appointed Officer Ilija Todorovic who finally decided this case and did justice to us. I guess without him it was not possible. Our case was complicated, with 2 States Pakistan and Sri Lanka turned on us.
NOW WE WAnt to leave SRI Lanka as soon as possible