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US blocks Diego Garcia asylum seekers detention hearing

The US has blocked a British judge from holding a hearing on the British-held island of Diego Garcia to determine whether a group of asylum seekers is being unlawfully detained there.

Around 60 Sri Lankan Tamil asylum seekers have been confined to a fenced camp the size of a football pitch on Diego Garcia for nearly three years after fleeing Sri Lanka and India by boat. 

Diego Garcia hosts a large US-UK military base where the local commander of US forces on the island controls access to the facility.

The Supreme Court of the British Indian Ocean Territory, which includes Diego Garcia, was scheduled to hold the unlawful detention hearing this week, but the US withdrew permits for the judge and lawyers for the asylum seekers to visit on 3 July, hours before they were set to begin travelling to the remote island.

US authorities determined that the visit “presents risks to the security and effective operation of [the naval support facility on] Diego Garcia and could not be accommodated”, according to a statement submitted to the court by lawyers for the British Indian Ocean Territory [BIOT] commissioner on 4 July.

In a hearing to discuss plans for a future visit to Diego Garcia, lawyers for the commissioner argued that any future visit will have to wait until the US’s security concerns are resolved, adding that the negotiations are handled by the UK Foreign, Commonwealth, and Development Office, without input from the BIOT commissioner.

The asylum seekers’ lawyers argued that the commissioner has made no effort to explore “alternative logistics” that would not rely on permission from the US, nor to persuade the US to permit the visit, allowing the asylum seekers to be deprived of their right to have access to courts.

The lawyers for the asylum seekers also cited the prison-like conditions on the island, which have driven many to attempt suicide, as a reason to expedite plans for an on-site hearing that could end their detention.

For more on those conditions, along with personal testimonies from the asylum seekers, read:

A view from inside the asylum seekers’ camp on Diego Garcia.

Tamils allege prison-like conditions on Diego Garcia ahead of unlawful detention hearing

Asylum seekers on the Indian Ocean island say they are still being punished for leaving camp despite a court ruling allowing them to do so.

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