The British foreign office says three Sri Lankan asylum seekers stranded on Diego Garcia, a remote island in the British Indian Ocean Territory, will be transported to Rwanda for medical treatment.
More than 200 Sri Lankan asylum seekers arrived on Diego Garcia in five successive boats starting in October 2021.
Dozens have since returned to Sri Lanka on flights arranged by BIOT authorities, while others have returned to their boats and sailed farther across the Indian Ocean to Réunion Island, the French overseas department.
Confirming news of the medical move in an emailed response to The New Humanitarian, the UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office said the “migrants” would be returned to BIOT after their treatment was complete.
The medical transfers are adding to fears that British authorities could seek to deport the Sri Lankan asylum seekers to Rwanda under an offshore processing deal then-prime minister Boris Johnson concluded with the Rwandan government in April.
Deportations from mainland Britain under the Rwanda deal – after arrivals on boats from France surpassed 40,000 in 2022, up more than 10,000 from 2021 – have been stalled for months amid challenges by UK courts, as well as the refusal of several airlines to carry out the removals.
More than 100 asylum seekers remain on Diego Garcia, waiting for BIOT authorities to determine whether they can be repatriated to Sri Lanka without violating the international legal principle of non-refoulement, which precludes them being sent to unsafe countries.
The medical transfer move comes amid heightened pressure on the UK government over migrant and asylum seeker arrivals.
On 14 November, Home Secretary Suella Braverman signed a deal with the French government to boost the number of patrol boats in the English Channel.
Earlier this month, the day after an immigration centre near England’s southeastern coast was bombed by a far-right attacker, Braverman described boat arrivals of asylum seekers as an “invasion”.
She has also said it is her “dream” and “obsession” to see asylum seekers deported to Rwanda.