Failed Iraq asylum seekers screened for forced deportation

Failed Iraq asylum seekers screened for forced deportation

Iraqi officials undertaking procedure in UK despite UN opposing forced returns to Baghdad

By Owen Bowcott
The Guardian (U.K.), June 3, 2010

Iraqi officials are screening failed Iraqi asylum seekers in UK immigration detention centres to assess whether they will accept forcible deportation back to Baghdad.

The highly unusual procedure, organised by the UK Borders Agency (UKBA), is in preparation for a flight next Wednesday when up to 70 men are expected to be removed from Britain.

The operation, deporting them via the central provinces of Iraq, is in direct contravention of United Nations guidelines. The UN high commissioner for refugees opposes forced returns to the area because of continuing suicide bombings and violence.

The UN guidance was explicitly restated last autumn after the UK attempted to deport 44 men to Baghdad. That abortive operation resulted in Iraqi airport officials refusing to admit all but 10 of the men. The rest were told to reboard the plane and flown back to the UK.

As a result of the diplomatic embarrassment, Iraqi officials have been invited to screen potential deportees to ensure that they will not be barred from entering Baghdad when their plane arrives.

The International Federation of Iraqi Refugees (IFIR), which has spoken to failed asylum seekers detained in the past week, said that some of the men who refused to cooperate with the process felt they
had been threatened.

The detainees include a number of those put on the previous deportation flight to the Iraqi capital last October. The Home Office confirmed that Iraqi government officials were taking part in pre-removal interviews in this country.

Among questions being asked of the men is where they were born in Iraq and whether they want to return voluntarily. One of those interviewed in Brook House detention centre at Gatwick, Arevan Mohammed, sent a statement about his experience to the IFIR.

A student studying for an MSc in microbiology and biotechnology in the West Midlands, his partner is four months pregnant.

He said: 'The immigration officer from the UKBA told me that I was not allowed to bring my legal representative with me as this meeting was totally private.

'The [Iraqi officials] spoke to me in Arabic but I started speaking in English as I told them we were living in UK and every one speaks English here.

'They said they had come from Iraq and were working with the UKBA as ambassadors for them. I said I am from Kirkuk and that there are many people who were from the street and who are now in the new Iraqi

'He become so angry and shouted at me with a loud voice saying 'go out and see what I'm going to do with you and where I'll put you by the time you come back'.

'I have contacted my solicitors and Iraqi embassy in London about the threat that I am facing now. I am really worried and fear for my life now. Even in the UK I don't feel secure any more.' He was eventually

Dashty Jamal, of the IFIR, said: ''This is another tactic by the UK government and the Iraqi government to legitimise their deportation police. The Liberal Democrats promised to sort out the problem of
refugees but now they are supporting this inhuman policy and are working with the tribal, religious and nationalist militia groups in Iraq to play with lives of innocent people who tried to escape from the killings, massacres, sectarian violence and war but are now threatened with forcible deportation.'

Around 900 failed asylum seekers have been deported to Iraq, virtually all to the relatively peaceful Kurdish north of the country, since deportation flights started in 2005.

Matthew Coats, head of immigration at the UK Border Agency said:
'Officials from the Iraqi ministry of interior are interviewing Iraqi
nationals who have no lawful basis of stay in the UK, in order to
confirm their eligibility for return to Iraq. In 2008 the courts found that we were able to return people to Iraq. The security situation in Iraq is significantly better now than it was in 2008 and assisted voluntary returns to Iraq have increased every year since 2007.'