'Government mafia' fears spark refugee win for couple

12:23 pm on 7 November 2016

A Sri Lankan couple who fear being murdered by "government mafia" should they return home have been granted refugee status.

Their initial application to remain in New Zealand was rejected by Immigration New Zealand, but in a newly-released decision, the Immigration and Protection Tribunal has upheld their appeal.

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Photo: 123RF

The tribunal heard the husband's uncle was murdered after he attempted to uncover corruption by the then-president Mahinda Rajapaksa.

He had survived being shot in 2010 and appealed for police protection, but was gunned down a second time - fatally - in 2011 in a busy street.

A drug dealer was charged with the murder but not convicted.

The husband's father was also murdered after seeking justice by someone hired by an "underworld figure", according to local reports.

The wife described the killers to the tribunal as "Government mafia".

The tribunal heard the husband, who is a Buddhist and owned a rental car business in Sri Lanka, has not sought justice for his uncle's and father's deaths, but left that responsibility to his older brother as the head of the family.

In March 2012, the couple and the husband's brother were shot at, close to their family home, by a gunman on a motorcycle.

The couple went into hiding and moved about Sri Lanka, yet a few months later received a series of threatening phone calls.

On one of the calls, the husband was told that he and his brother would be killed if they continued to pursue justice.

In April 2014, after three men came to his mother's house looking for him and his brother, he decided to travel to New Zealand with his wife on limited visas.

The couple said the killers operated with immunity under both the former and current governments - an allegation the tribunal said was likely to be true, citing Amnesty International's annual report on Sri Lanka.

"A new government in January brought constitutional reforms and promises of improved human rights protection," the report said.

"Many human rights challenges remained, including persistent use of arbitrary arrest and detention, torture and other ill-treatment, enforced disappearances and deaths in custody, and a long-standing climate of impunity for these and other violations."

The tribunal referred to a Guardian report that a Sri Lankan newspaper editor was shot and killed by a gunman after his paper published articles critical of President Rajapaksa's government.

It looked at an Asian Human Rights Commission report linking politicians and criminals in Sri Lanka, describing the situation as "guns, goons, the police and politicians acting illegally".

The couple presented evidence to the tribunal that included letters to and from local police, and a death threat from the drug dealer initially charged with murder written while he was still in custody.

The tribunal also discovered the suspected killer has links to the government via donations to a politician.

It ruled the couple can stay in New Zealand as refugees.

Read the full decision here

"On the facts as found, the Tribunal is satisfied that there is a real chance that the husband and the wife will be seriously harmed if they were to return to Sri Lanka, by [the suspected killer], or his associates, or by Rajapaksa supporters seeking revenge for attempts to bring him to justice for the deaths and uncover political links to the criminal underworld."

All the names and specific places were suppressed.

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