Sri Lankan Tamils, seeking passage to Canada, have been dumped in the West African country of Togo, where they are trapped in miserable conditions.
About 200 Tamil refugees are stuck in Togo because the human smugglers they hired to take them to Canada stranded them in West Africa, reports the BBC, after charging them $6,000 each.
They had fled the recent civil war in Sri Lanka between Tamils and the Sinhalese.
The Tamils apparently journeyed by sea from their native to Sri Lanka to India, then travelled to Ethiopia before flying by plane to Togo. The smugglers promised them they would be able to fly to Canada once they reached Ghana, which borders Togo on the west.
The group, which includes 19 women and 11 children, are currently detained in a stadium in the Togolese coastal capital of Lome, BBC noted.
We have been arrested and detained here on charges of overstaying our visa period since 24th October last year and have been told that unless we voluntarily return to Sri Lanka, we would be deported forcefully, one Tamil told BBC. Another detainee told BBC that they are being abused in guards and some are suffering from malaria.
Every morning we are woken early and made to sweep the entire stadium and clean the toilets used by the military, an inmate said.
The Tamils fear if they are returned to Sri Lanka they may be killed.
Togo’s public safety minister Vic Toews said in statement: I understand that there's some rumors going around in respect of another illegal migrant boat. I can assure you that our agencies work closely with governments around the world in order to stop criminal activities with respect to human smuggling.
He added: We will continue to work with allies overseas and ensure that human smugglers do not involve themselves and criminally take advantage of unfortunate people. We urge our opposition parties here to support [anti-smuggling] legislation to ensure that we have the appropriate tools by which to deal with human smuggling and criminal operations.”
BBC indicated that Canadian government official, as well as members of the United Nations refugee agency, have visited with the Sri Lankans.
Since the civil war in Sri Lanka ended almost three years ago, many Tamils have sought refuge elsewhere, particularly Canada and Australia.
Togo is a particularly bad place for the refugees to find themselves in.
According to the U.S. State Department, human rights abuses are widespread in the tiny country.
Human rights violations committed in Togo include, among other atrocities, use of excessive force by security officials, “including torture, which resulted in deaths and injuries; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrests and detention; official corruption; discrimination and violence against women; child abuse, including female genital mutilation (FGM), and sexual exploitation of children.”