Mendis had arrived in the UK in October 1973 on a twelve-month student visa but overstayed his visa. He was an active supporter of the Tamils and, in the UK, the Revolutionary Communist Group and claimed danger of death if he was sent back to Sri Lanka. Following a march to protest against his deportation on 20 December 1986 he ran into the Church of the Ascension and claimed the right of sanctuary. He stayed in the church for the next two years with the help of the rector John Methuen. The church became the focus of the "Viraj Mendis Defence Campaign" against his deportation. In late 1988 his supporters were invited to address an assembly at Burnage High School, Pupils were encouraged to enlist the help of parents to his cause. One parent took exception to this and contacted the Manchester Evening News, the story was then picked up on by The Daily Telegraph–shortly after Mr Mendis was removed. On 18 January 1989 police raided the church and arrested Mendis, which led to a large demonstration and questions in the House of Commons.
He was deported back to Sri Lanka and his fears did not materialize. Mendis claimed his case had received so much publicity that the Sri Lankan government did not dare to harm him. He later moved to Germany and became chairperson of the International Human Rights Association in Bremen (Internationaler Menschenrechtsverein Bremen) and worked defending refugees facing deportation, and on Tamil liberation. In 2010 he was refused permission to enter Britain for the funeral service of John Methuen.
- "Commons Debates - 18 January 1989". Archived from the original on 14 July 2011. Retrieved 16 March 2010. Cite uses deprecated parameter
- "BBC News - 14 September 2004".
- Jafferjee, Azra (2006-12-31). "Germany takes over EU, trouble for Lanka". Sri Lanka Sunday Times. Retrieved 2010-08-08.
- Dan Thompson (2010-08-02). "Viraj Mendis banned from funeral of priest who sheltered him". - Manchester Evening News. Retrieved 2010-08-08.
- "Old Hulme, Manchester - LifeStYLe". eXHulme. Retrieved 2010-08-08.
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