The Refugee Council deplores plans for the forced removal of Iraqis at a time when aid agencies are reporting a refugee crisis in countries neighbouring Iraq.
Reports today show that more than 2 million Iraqi refugees, fleeing conflict in their homeland, are being supported in neighbouring countries including Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and Egypt, which are struggling to cope with the exodus. Some countries are preventing refugees from crossing their borders, contrary to international law, and prompting international aid agencies to warn of a humanitarian crisis.
The UK should be taking a lead in dealing with this worsening situation, but instead of helping to relieve the burden on Iraq’s neighbours and giving sanctuary to Iraqi refugees in the UK, the government is taking steps to remove the few Iraqis who have made it here.
Home Office figures show that only around eight thousand Iraqis have claimed asylum in the UK since the war started in 2003. The vast majority will be refused. At the same time, official figures show that in the first nine months of last year, fifteen hundred Iraqis were returned – more than twice as many as arrived. Most of those have gone on voluntary schemes, but a small number – fewer than 50 – have been forcibly returned. Now more Iraqis have been detained and another flight to Northern Iraq is feared this weekend.
The Acting Chief Executive of the Refugee Council, Anna Reisenberger says:
“We are alarmed at reports coming from Iraqi exile groups that another flight back to Iraq is scheduled this month. We have grave reservations about how the previous flights were handled. There were mass round ups, people were held in detention without proper access to lawyers, the returnees were put into handcuffs and military uniforms and flown out in military planes. Since those flights, it has been difficult to establish what happened to those who were returned. There have been reports of people being mistreated and going missing.”
“Given the scale of the refugee crisis developing in Iraq, we believe the UK government should be taking steps to relieve the burden on Iraq and its neighbours by allowing more refugees to come here. But at the very least, we should not be returning anybody to any part of Iraq for the time being as this will put more people’s lives at risk and can only worsen the humanitarian situation.”
Further information from Bob Deffee, 0207 346 6712
Guardian: Anna Reisenberger’s comment piece ‘Naming our shame’
Notes to editors:
1. 590 applications for asylum were received from Iraqis in the first 3 quarters of 2006. In the same period, 1500 people were removed, including voluntary and assisted removals. Asylum applications for 2003 – 2005 from Iraq total 7125 excluding dependants. Source: Home Office quarterly statistics.
2. International Federation of Iraqi Refugees and Coalition to Stop Deportation to Iraq are organising a demonstration in front of the Home Office, 2 Marsham Street, London SW1P4 4DF, Wednesday 24th January 2007, 4pm-6pm. Details from Dashty Jamal on 0785 603 2991 or firstname.lastname@example.org