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Whitelist’ extension threatens to shut asylum door on minorities at risk.

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The UK Government decision to extend the ‘whitelist'(1) of supposedly safe countries has potentially shut the asylum door to members of minorities and indigenous peoples who remain persecuted in these countries. An additional seven countries including Bangladesh and Sri Lanka are among those which Minority Rights Group International (MRG) consider to maintain policies and conditions under which members of minorities and indigenous peoples may face serious threats.

The list, which now covers twenty-four countries in total, identifies states deemed to be ‘generally safe’ according to immigration minister, Beverley Hughes. However, according to Minority Rights Group International, this broad assumption of ‘safety’ fails to take account of the specific circumstances of minority and indigenous groups who are consistently the most marginalized and discriminated against in many of the whitelist countries. The designation of whitelist status threatens to undermine the claims of members of these vulnerable groups due to the ‘fast-track’ nature of asylum hearings for nationals of these states.

The inappropriate and premature nature of this listing is highlighted by the Home Office’s own country analysis of human rights in Bangladesh, which on 19 June 2003 states that, ‘[p]olice brutality, torture, extra judicial killings, violation of human rights of women and children, arbitrary arrests and detention, and violence and discrimination against the ethnic and religious minorities persisted in 2002.’

In May 2003, testimony was made to the United Nations Working Group on Minorities by representatives of a Bangladeshi human rights organization(2), alleging that ‘[k]illing, rape of women, physical torture, kidnappings, forcible occupation of properties, eviction of religious minorities, demolitions of deities temples, Monastic, Churches etc. are not new and irregular.’ The situation of the indigenous peoples of Bangladesh including those of the Chittagong Hill Tracts also remains cause for serious concern. Existing countries on the list include many central and eastern European states in which there is widespread and well documented discrimination and persecution of groups such as the Roma.

Minority Rights Group International call upon the UK Home Office to review the classification of all countries currently on the whitelist in view of continuing instances of persecution of ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities and indigenous peoples in these states.

Notes for editors

  1. Whitelist countries are: Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia when list introduced on 7 Oct 2002; Albania, Bulgaria, Jamaica, Macedonia, Moldova, Romania and Serbia + Montenegro added in February 2003; Brazil, Equador, Bolivia, South Africa, Ukraine, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh added in June 2003
  2. Shilkup Rekha Granthagar Welfare Society – Bangladesh. Intervention delivered at the Ninth Session of the United Nations Working Group on Minorities, Geneva, 12-16 May 2003.
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