Statewatch News Online: UK deportations to Iraq contravene UN advice

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The week from 20-26 June is Refugee Week, celebrated by many people across the UK, including a wide number of voluntary and refugee organisations seeking to "discover and celebrate the contributions refugees bring to the UK". [1] 2011 also marks the 60th anniversary of the signing of the UN Convention on Refugees. Damian Green, the Immigration Minister, recently attended a Refugee Council event in Sheffield where he spoke of Britain's "proud tradition of helping those who need our protection and of giving genuine refugees the support they need to start a new life in the UK". [2] However, the proposed deportation of over 70 Iraqi nationals indicates that the asylum system in the UK continues to violate the rights and dignity of many of those individuals subject to it.

On 9th June the National Coalition of Anti-Deportation Campaigns (NCADC) reported that "[a]t least 70 Iraqi refugees have been rounded up in the UK over the last few weeks", [3] in preparation for deportation. At Campsfield House detention centre 24 Iraqis, along with 14 Afghan detainees undertook a hunger strike in protest at the proposed deportation. The Iraqi detainees recently received visits from Iraqi government officials to confirm their nationality, and apparently to ask whether they were willing to return to Iraq. Earlier in June The Guardian reported the experience of one detainee who was interviewed by an Iraqi official. He was denied legal representation at the interview and apparently threatened by the official. [4]

As of 21st June, it seems that there will be 72 people on the flight, which is due to leave the UK at 23:00. Although there is a chance of last-minute injunctions being issued by legal representatives for the detainees, it seems likely that the deportation will go ahead. It has not been possible to find out from where the flight will be leaving, nor which company will be operating the flight. However, it is clear that the UK's government's insistence on undertaking deportations to Iraq flies in the face of advice from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, which states that:

"Iraqi asylum applicants originating from Iraq's governates of Baghdad, Dyala, Ninewa and Sala-al-Din, as well as from Kirkuk province, should continue to benefit from international protection… Our position reflects the volatile security situation and the still high level of prevailing violence, security incidents, and human rights violations taking place in this part of Iraq."

"The UK government is aware of UNCHR's recommendations but does not share our assessment of the situation in Iraq." [5]

This is the latest of many deportations to Iraq undertaken by the United Kingdom Border Agency (UKBA), which started returning failed asylum seekers to Iraq in 2005. While in that time around 900 individuals have been deported to the country, not all attempts to removal have succeeded. In 2009 a charter flight was returned to the UK by the Iraqi authorities, with only eight of 40 deportees having left the plane in Baghdad. In April 2010 the attempted deportation to a number of people to the Northern Iraqi province of Kurdistan failed following a demonstration at Sulaimaniyah International Airport in Kurdistan, where protestors (who included MPs from the Kurdish Government) threatened to occupy the runway. The plane never left Britain.

Those due to be deported on the 21st June will all be transported to Baghdad. Individuals who have spoken with some of the detainees have stated that some of them are under the impression that they will subsequently have to make their own way to their onward destinations. This directly contravenes the UKBA's stated policy of "mak[ing] arrangements for those who require onward travel to their home towns, and this includes those travelling to the Kurdistan Region." [6] A number of those due facing deportation have reportedly said they do not know how they will get home; furthermore, several of those people being deported come from those very areas to which the UNCHR has advised people should not be returned.

The International Federation of Iraqi Refugees (IFIR) has noted that around 700 Iraqi asylum seekers - mostly Kurds - are due to be deported from four different European countries in the next month. The organisation has claimed that the Iraqi government "signed a deal with European countries wanting to deport Iraqis in return for dropping Iraqi debts", a claim that has been denied by the Swedish government. [7] In Sweden, the proposed expulsions have led to demonstrations outside detention centres; such a protest recently led to the arrest of ten people. [8] In Britain, despite the vociferous campaign against the war that led to such a sustained period of violence and insecurity in Iraq, support for those facing deportation to the country has been significantly more muted, although there are a number of organisations that continue to campaign against government policy in this area. [9]

Iraqis are not the only people subject to being removed to a country deemed by many to be unsafe. Damian Green boasted in a recent speech the in the last year nearly 2,000 people were removed from the UK, "to destinations like Afghanistan, Iraq and Nigeria", and that the government has "expanded the range of countries to which we remove - including opening up routes and removing in volume to Sri Lanka, Iraq and next Zimbabwe". [10] The insistence of the UK government on continuing to return individuals to those areas of Iraq deemed unsafe by the UNHCR demonstrates that the UK's "proud tradition of helping those who need our protection" involves a particularly selective view of both historical and contemporary attitudes to asylum seekers in the United Kingdom.


[1] Refugee Week
[2] Refugee Council Online, 'Immigration Minister marks Refugee Week in Sheffield'
[3] National Coalition of Anti-Deportation Campaigns, 'UK plans mass deportation of Iraqis; Hunger strike in detention centre', June 9 2011
[4] Owen Boycott, 'Failed Iraq asylum seekers screened for forced deportation', The Guardian, 3 June 2011
[5] National Coalition of Anti-Deportation Campaigns, 'Act now: support the campaign against mass expulsion to Iraq', June 16 2011
[6] BBC News, 'Iraqi asylum seekers 'to be forcibly deported'', 31 August 2010
[7] PUKmedia, 'Baghdad awaits arrival of 70 deported Kurdish refugees', 19 June 2011
[8], 'Tio frihetsberövade vid demonstration mot avvisning' 14 June 2011
[9] National Coalition of Anti-Deportation Campaigns; Coalition Against Deportations to Iraq; No Borders UK Network
[10] Damian Green, 'National Asylum Stakeholder Forum Speech', 26 May 2011

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