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1987: Tamils strip off at Heathrow
A group of Tamils from Sri Lanka seeking asylum in Britain protested at Heathrow airport by removing their clothes as they were about to be deported.

Twelve male members of a 64-strong group, who arrived in the UK last week on a Bangladeshi aircraft, stripped off on the tarmac in freezing weather conditions.

Amid a frenzied scuffle with security personnel they were forcibly placed onto the awaiting aircraft which was bound for Dhaka.

But they were removed soon afterwards after their loud protests onboard drew complaints from fellow passengers and resulted in the pilot refusing to take-off.

High court order

The pilot agreed to fly the aircraft with the 25 female members of the group and their nine children.

But take-off was aborted for a second time when news reached the airport that the High Court had granted an injunction order preventing the whole group being deported until 23 February 1987.

Six members of the original 64 had been allowed to stay with friends of relatives in Britain on arrival. The remaining 58 were due to be immediately deported because the Home Office said they did not qualify for refugee status.

Following the High Court decision a spokesperson for the Home Office said: "We are urgently reviewing the situation. We do not know yet what action we will take.

"We were not represented at the hearing and only heard of the order as the plane was preparing to take off for the second time.

The group were removed from the aircraft and taken to a detention centre.

The Tamils have been fighting for their own state in northern Sri Lanka for more than 20 years.

It is understood this particular group travelled from Sri Lanka to Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia where they had each paid 1,500 to an "agent" who promised them entry into Britain.

On arrival in this country they said that if they were sent back they would face certain death.

According to the Home Office all of them were travelling on forged or false documents and none had visas to enter the country. They had apparently been advised to destroy their documents in transit.

The government claims that in the past two months more than 300 Tamils have arrived in Britain without visas.

Most have been sent back to where they came from and the airline which brought them has been forced to foot the bill.

A spokesperson for the Sri Lankan High Commission in London said: "They are coming here more than anything else for financial gain. If they are allowed to stay they are given all the social security benefits, they can send their children to school and will be housed free."

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Tamil asylum seekers
The male members of the group refused to board the plane

In Context
New rules were introduced in March 1987 which stipulated that carriers bringing anyone to Britain without a valid passport or acceptable travel documents were liable to a fine of 1,000 per passenger.

The new rules dramatically reduced the number of people arriving in Britain seeking asylum.

A week after the Heathrow protest the 58 Tamils involved in the Heathrow protest won permission in the High Court to challenge a government attempt to expel them.

But after much legal wrangling the House of Lords ruled in December 1987 that the Tamils should be returned to Sri Lanka.

By February 1988 as many as 2,500 Tamils had fled from the conflict in Sri Lanka to Britain but the Lord's ruling paved the way for the government to begin their deportation.

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