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Last Updated: Tuesday, 14 September, 2004, 19:01 GMT 20:01 UK
Exile returns to his 'sanctuary'
Viraj Mendis
Viraj Mendis in his "sanctuary"
A Sri Lankan refugee whose fight for asylum gained world attention has made his first trip to Manchester 15 years after he was deported.

Viraj Mendis sought the ancient "right" of sanctuary in the Church of the Ascension, Hulme, claiming he would be jailed if he was sent back home.

He was sent back to Sri Lanka but believes his case became so well known the authorities dare not kill him.

He now lives in Germany where he defends the rights of refugees.

He recently managed to obtain a visa to visit the UK and is meeting up with former supporters as well as addressing meetings on migration and asylum issues.

Viraj Mendis
The Church of the Ascension in 1989
Viraj Mendis, who was a Communist, claimed he would be jailed if he was deported back to Sir Lanka and sought sanctuary by living in an inner city Anglican church, even though the right of sanctuary had no legal force for centuries

He was backed by an army of supporters who ensured he could live in part of the church without ever having to leave the building.

The stand off lasted 760 days before police battered down the doors with sledgehammers and removed him.

He lived in Sri Lanka for a year and believes the publicity over his case saved his life.

"My biggest enemies the British Home Office and the Sri Lankan regime went out of their way to protect me because if I got killed it would have been humiliating for the Home Office," said Mr Mendis.

Viraj Mendis
A Hulme street recalls the Mendis campaign
Spending two years without leaving a building may have seemed like prison for many people but Mr Mendis has found memories of the time.

"It was a far more comfortable 'prison' than in Sri Lanka and I had many people who were supporting me."

Urban regeneration means the Hulme is no longer the hotbed of political dissent it once was in the 1980s but one corner still carries memories of the Viraj Mendis campaign.

Not far from the Church of the Ascension is a street named appropriately enough "The Sanctuary."

Protest outside Blunkett's office
11 Sep 04  |  South Yorkshire
Asylum seeker cried in jail
20 Aug 04  |  Wales


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