Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani on Saturday, 20 August, criticised the decision by the UK government to send back dozens of Kurds whose asylum applications have failed. Barzani’s Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) condemned the move, saying it “was unnecessary to force these Kurds to leave Britain”.
Barzani’s group, which controls one half of northern Iraq’s Kurdish autonomous zone, said in a statement that some of the returnees could be going back to areas outside the Kurdish areas where security is poor.
Iraqi failed asylum seekers are currently being detained in preparation for the first programme of forced removals, the Home Office said on 15 August. The Home Office would not confirm the numbers who have been detained pending their removal. However, the Refugee Council believe that 43 Iraqis had been arrested by the end of last week and the Times has reported that they were told by officials said that the figure had grown to over 100.
There are currently up to 7,000 failed Iraqi asylum seekers in Britain living in Britain. Their removal until now has been on a voluntary basis because of the problems of ensuring their safety on return.
Despite refugee groups and the UNHCR warning that the volatile situation in Iraq means that no-one should be forced home, the Home Office are insisting that some parts of Iraq are not as affected by insurgent action and are therefore safer. This goes against Foreign Office advice which has discouraged non- essential travel to Iraq for Britons and warns of an expected increase in attacks by insurgents.
The detention of Iraqis follows the introduction of charter flights to Iraq by the International Organisation of Migration. Planes will fly to Irbil in the Kurdish region in the north of the country. However, these are, so far, only for voluntary returnees. Speculation is mounting that forced returns could begin as early as Bank Holiday Sunday, 26 August.
A spokeswoman for the Home Office was reported in the Guardian: “We would only return those who are not at risk of persecution and do not need humanitarian protection.” She said that in February last year, a decision was taken in principle to start the forced returns, but the proposed programme of removals would be the first time the policy would be followed through.
Margaret Lally of the Refugee Council was quoted in the Guardian and the Daily Mirror: “This goes against the advice of the UN, whose position is that it is too early to force people to return. The US state department has also advised that terrorists are targeting civilian flights, which shows just how dangerous these plans are.”
The Times reported that the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees had said that Britain had not given notification of the move and the expulsions were wrong. UN officials are hoping to meet Home Office ministers to try to stop the removals.
Tim Finch, director of communications at the Refugee Council, concurred “It was only when Iraqi families and community leaders began contacting us in panic that we discovered what was going on.”
“Nobody in Whitehall can surely claim that it is perfectly safe to send anyone back to anywhere in Iraq at the moment. I fear this is just another clumsy case of the Home Office trying to reach its target on forced removals of failed asylum-seekers and trying to do it in secret.”
Read Margaret Lally’s full statement
Read our Special Briefing: Iraq – return and Section 4 support
Guardian:Iraqi failed asylum seekers detained
Times Online: Forcible removal of illegal Iraqis to start soon