UK plays roulette with Iraqi refugees

The British government may have gone to war to defend human rights in Iraq, but it is playing fast and loose with the lives of thousands of Iraqis living on its own doorstep.

    Iraq is too unsafe for many refugees to return

    Iraqi refugees whose asylum claims have been rejected are now facing the prospect of forced deportation, following a Home Office ruling that Iraq is safe enough for them to return to.

    Sadi Husayn, an Iraqi Kurd from Rania, a village near Sulaymaniyah, is one of those under threat.

    "I am waiting for a removal order but I will not go back," he says grimly. "If it comes, I will die in this country but I am not going back. They will have to take my body home."

    Sadi speaks with an eerie determination that belies his 29 years. He lost one arm in 1991, when he opened a booby-trapped car door during fighting in Kirkuk between the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) fighters and Saddam Hussein's forces.

    Traumatised past

    Like many young men of his generation, Sadi has been traumatised by an oppressive, oppressed and highly factional Kurdish civil society.

    Not all Iraqi refugees hope to be
    greeted well on their return home

    Sadi had family ties to the PUK and joined them to fight Saddam Hussein in 1991. But when he became politically disillusioned and tried to leave the group, he was arrested and, he says, his life was threatened.

    Sadi fled to territory controlled by the rival KDP but was arrested again, as a potential PUK spy. Finally, he started editing a newspaper called Kozgur but even there, his independent stance won him enemies.

    "When I wrote an article about plans by the Islamic Movement of Kurdistan (IMK) to kill a leftwing council leader, my family received a letter warning them that if I wrote again, they would kill me," he says. "So I fled the country."

    Risky return

    "My family wants me to come back now. They keep saying that everyone misses me but I can't return because I know that if I do, I will be killed. Last December, one of my uncles was killed by the PUK. I have documents to prove this."

    "If it comes, I will die in this country but I am not going back. They will have to take my body home"

    Sadi Husayn 
    Iraqi Kurd refugee in UK

    Despite the documents, Sadi's appeal to stay in the UK was turned down.

    Bob Russell, a Liberal Democrat MP and member of the Home Affairs Select Committee, says that Sadi's case is "precisely" the sort that concerns him.

    "If a person believes that their life is in danger, then I would always err on their side," he says. "Iraq is not yet a country that is at peace with itself, let alone with those who have fled the country in the last few years.

    "I don’t support the forced removals policy because when British soldiers in relatively peaceful parts of the country are still being attacked, I think it is an indication that all is not yet well."

    UNHCR warning

    Russell's concerns are widely shared. This month, the UNHCR issued new guidelines to governments requesting a ban on forced removals to all parts of Iraq, including those of rejected asylum cases.

    Even the US-appointed Iraqi Governing Council's Minister of Displacement and Migration, Muhammad Khudair, has called for an end to forced repatriations of refugees until the situation in Iraq improves.

    Home Secretary Blunkett says
    Iraq is safe for everyone

    The Foreign Office continues to advise Britons that the country is too dangerous to visit. But the Home Office appears to disagree.

    The Home Secretary David Blunkett recently described northern Iraq as "generally overwhelmingly safe" and said that Iraqi asylum seekers had a moral obligation to return to their country to help rebuild it.

    Forced deportation

    As a Home Office statement sent to makes clear, those unwilling to leave voluntarily, may soon have their hand forced.

    "The security situation for Iraqis is gradually improving across Iraq," the missive reads. "We have every intention of pursuing an enforced returns policy as soon as conditions allow."

    According to Marsha Singh, a Labour MP on the Select Committee: "There are parts of Iraq where security is good and has been for some time, especially in northern Iraq where quite a few asylum seekers come from."

    But in Sadi's case, it is the "good" security forces which are threatening his life. Singh admits that the issues in his case are problematic.

    "It’s a difficult one, isn't it?" he says, before conceding that the Home Office's advice may be inadequate.

    "It’s certainly not sufficient grounds for turning down an appeal," he says. "We see on our TV screens every day that certain parts of the country are still very unsafe."

    Doomed deportees

    "Heavens above, it's not even safe for the troops! You can't send people back to a country that is in such turmoil"

    Keith Best, director,
    Immigration Advisory Service

    Workers in the field of migrants' rights go further. Keith Best, the director of the Immigration Advisory Service says that, as a result of the new policy, some refugees will "undoubtedly" be sent back to their deaths.

    "Heavens above, it's not even safe for the troops!" he exclaims. "You can't send people back to a country that is in such turmoil. It worries me because it is playing with people’s lives."

    "How extraordinary to say 'we've come to liberate you over there but we're going to send all the people who've managed to get to the UK back into an unsafe environment.'

    "I think it's got more to do with asylum seekers being used as a tool in an unscrupulous media-assisted campaign to convince the public that the government is getting tough on immigration. And I'm afraid it will increase as we get closer to the election."

    The unpleasant truth may be that it is just easier for governments and newspapers to care about Iraqi civilians when they are the victims of human rights abuses thousands of miles away, in a land filled with oil.

    As Best puts it: "The government and media have created a climate where all asylum seekers are seen as crooks who are here to abuse our benefits system, and that is an evil thing to have done."

    SOURCE: Aljazeera


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