Sri Lankan journalist in UAE still at risk of deportation

Lohini Rathimohan, a former television journalist from Sri Lanka, faces an unclear future. The 28-year-old is among 15 Tamil refugees still sheltered in a single room of an aluminum factory at Dubai’s Jebel Ali port whose official statuses remain uncertain.

Rathimohan (whose name is also spelled Lokini) and others were granted UNHCR refugee status in November after they fled dangers at home to seek asylum in Australia. Upon hitting stormy seas, they were rescued by a Singaporean vessel en route to the UAE, according to news reports. In April, fresh reports said the group faced deportation despite their refugee status; a few days later, the UNHCR said the agency was working on their resettlement and the refugees were in no danger of being forced out of the UAE. Since then, four of the original 19 refugees were accepted by the United States, Finland, and Sweden.

But it seems the storm hasn’t entirely passed. Kulasegaram Geetharthanan, a lawyer who has submitted applications to several countries on behalf of the asylum-seekers, told CPJ that the UNHCR is reassessing the group’s status as UNHCR refugees and subjecting them to another round of interviews. CPJ recently spoke to the journalist, who also said her status is in question. Her limited English may not have conveyed many details, but one thing was clear in her voice–the dread of being deported.

CPJ contacted UNHCR spokeswoman Fatoumata Lejeune-Kaba based in Geneva who declined to comment on the specifics of any individual case, citing confidentiality.

Deportation to Sri Lanka would most certainly place Rathimohan in terrible jeopardy. The former news presenter was a high-profile face when she covered Sri Lanka’s civil war from areas controlled by the Tamil Tigers for the rebel-run National Television of Tamil Eelam (NTT) between 2006 and 2008. In 2009, Rathimohan’s colleague Shoba was shown shot and killed in amateur video filmed by Sri Lankan soldiers and obtained by the U.K.’s Channel 4.

CPJ research shows that ethnic Tamil media in Sri Lanka face continued risks. In recent months, CPJ documented an attack on the offices of Uthayan, a Tamil-language newspaper based in the island nation’s Northern Province, and disruptions by the country’s national broadcaster to BBC’s Tamil service, which led the British broadcaster to suspend all radio service in Sri Lanka.

In the meantime, Geetharthanan has submitted an application for Rathimohan’s resettlement in the U.K., where her aunt, a European Union citizen, resides. He said the office confirmed receipt of it last week. We’ll be following her situation closely, and hoping for a positive outcome.