New York, Jul 3: At least 142 Pakistanis arrested in police sweeps in Sri Lanka in June are being detained and are at risk of deportation, Human Rights Watch said on Thursday.

The Sri Lankan controller general of immigration should not deport members of Pakistani minority groups until the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) has full access to them and determines their need for international protection, the US rights body said.

Most are members of the Ahmadiyya minority though the detainees also include Christians and Shia Muslims. It said UNHCR had not had access to the detainees, who are being held in the Boosa detention centre, although the UN refugee agency had already recognized at least six of the group as refugees.

Media reports cited Immigration Controller Chulananda Perera as saying that the government was able to deport the detained Pakistanis because it had not given them permission to register asylum claims.

“Sri Lankan authorities are threatening Pakistani minority group members with deportation at the very time when persecution of these groups is escalating in Pakistan,” said Bill Frelick at Human Rights Watch.

“Preventing asylum seekers from lodging claims in no way absolves Sri Lanka from its duty not to return them to possible persecution.” Under international law, governments are prohibited from forcibly returning refugees to places where they would be at serious risk of persecution or other serious harm.

The principle applies equally to people prevented from lodging asylum claims who would still face serious harm upon return. The sweeps of Pakistani minority neighbourhoods in Negombo, a city on the western coast of Sri Lanka, began June 9, with authorities citing security concerns for the sweep.

Negombo has been a haven for minority refugees from Pakistan. In 2013, UNHCR registered nearly 1,500 refugee claims of Pakistanis in Sri Lanka. Human Rights Watch said that the Pakistani government had failed to investigate instances of discrimination or violence against ethnic and religious minorities.

Members of the Ahmaddiya, Christian, and other religious minority communities are at acute risk of violent persecution and discrimination in Pakistan.

Both Human Rights Watch and the Asian Human Rights Commission have noted that the community faces increasing risks and social discrimination due to threats by militant groups.