Human rights activists are pleading with the British government to postpone or cancel the planned deportation of 20 Tamils back to their native country of Sri Lanka on fears that they will be imprisoned and tortured there.

The Tamils are seeking asylum in Britain, claiming their lives are in danger if they return to Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka endured a long civil war between its Tamil and Sinhalese ethnic groups. The Tamils were defeated by the army in 2009 after 25 years of conflict.

Amnesty International said that at least one of Tamil asylum seekers tried to commit suicide at an airport detention facility on Wednesday. Amnesty has insisted that Britain has a responsibility to protect people at risk of torture.

Nobody should be deported from the UK if they are at risk of torture. The end of the armed conflict in Sri Lanka in May 2009 has not diminished the risks faced by failed Sri Lankan asylum seekers, who continue to be subjected to arrest and detention upon their arrival in Sri Lanka, said Yolanda Foster, Sri Lanka Researcher at Amnesty International.

We are aware of cases of returned asylum seekers being tortured.

Human Rights Watch has also called for a postponement in the deportations.

Brad Adams, South Asia director of Human Rights Watch, told media: We urge the British government to hold off sending people who could face persecution on return. People who are critical of the Sri Lankan government are now often targeted.

BBC reports that some of the Tamils have apparently had their deportations deferred, while others are already being flown back to Sri Lanka.

One Tamil asylum-seeker told BBC: If I go back [to Sri Lanka] I will be picked up by the Tamil paramilitaries. They will torture me and kill me. If I die here my wife and son will see my body. If I go to Sri Lanka they will not even see my body.

Meanwhile, the British Foreign Office is pressuring the Sri Lankan government to investigate reports of atrocities committed against Tamil rebels during the civil war.