News in brief; Refugees to get £3,000 to go home

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Tens of thousands of Iraqi asylum seekers in Britain are to be offered voluntary repatriation packages including a payment of up to £3,000 per family if they return home once the position in the country has stabilised.
Home Office officials are working on a fast-track procedure to allow people who were granted refugee status while Saddam was in power to go back to Iraq. Those who refuse will eventually face enforced repatriation.

The plans will mirror the Government's policy on Afghan refugees who last year were offered £2,500 per family or £600 for individuals to help them return once the military campaign against the Taliban had ended.

Later this month the Home Office will announce that the first 50 Afghan asylum seekers are to be forcibly removed. Officials said that the Government would charter its own plane to take the asylum seekers to Kabul.

The Government said it would stick to its plans despite increased tension in Afghanistan. Last week Amnesty International said that the situation in the country was deteriorating and highlighted the need for an investigation in the deaths of 11 civilians killed in the east of the country.

US military forces are still based in Kabul, attempting to keep warring factions apart and support the nascent Afghan government led by Hamid Karzai.

The Home Office hopes that the removal of asylum seekers to countries no longer deemed to be a risk to their civilians will increase the chances of meeting the target, imposed by the Prime Minister, that the number of asylum applications received by Britain would be halved by September.

There were more than 19,000 asylum applications from Iraq last year, the highest number from any country. That figure had increased sharply from a few hundred in the early 1990s.

Many are middle class exiles with skills in medicine, teaching and business.

'We will deal with this fairly and equitably,' said one Whitehall source. 'Once the position in the country stabilises we are sure that many of the Iraqi people here will want to return home. We will help them do that.'

The largest group of Iraqis in Britain are Kurds from the north of the country. The Home Office has already decided that Iraqi Kurdistan is a safe haven for refugees and, in theory, those who do not have the right to remain in this country could be returned immediately.

But until now, the Government has failed to find a safe route of return. It is now thought to be seeking guarantees from neighbouring Turkey for safe transit through the Kurdish south- east of the country.

Burhan Fatah of the Federation of Iraqi Refugees said the Government had stopped processing the applications of Iraqi asylum seekers before the war in preparation for their return: 'In the Kurdish restaurants around London, it is all people are talking about. People shout things like, "Go home! Your country is safe now! Get out of ours."'

Peter Beaumont
Sunday April 13, 2003
The Observer<

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