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UK asylum removals to Iraq not just a farce, a disgrace

An attempt by the UK Border Agency last week to forcibly remove some 44 refused Iraqi asylum seekers and send them back to Baghdad appears to have been conducted by the Keystone Cops – or rather the Keystone Private Security Contractors.

The Times describes the efforts as both a ‘fiasco’ and a ‘debacle’. Hardly surprising, it seems. The plane was turned around at Baghdad airport and the majority of its passengers sent back to the UK, after a reportedly angry exchange with Iraqi officials at the airport, in which the surprised airport commander is said to have threatened to set fire to the plane if it did not return to the UK within two hours.  

The Guardian reports allegations of beatings and mistreatment from the deportees themselves, who say they were physically and racially abused by security guards on board. They also report that no-one twigged that having an Arabic interpreter on board might be a good idea, leaving one of the deportees to do the translation himself.

Head of the Border Agency Lin Homer will now face questions from the Home Affairs Select Committee, says the Indie.

The farcical (and presumably rather expensive) exercise would be amusing if it wasn’t so serious. There’s a very good reason why the government hasn’t been able to return people to southern and central Iraq until now. It is still incredibly dangerous. The Foreign Office website says “We advise against all travel to Baghdad and its surrounding area,” and goes on to explain why:

“…the situation remains highly dangerous with a continuing high threat of terrorism throughout the country (except in the Kurdish Region). This includes violence and kidnapping targeting foreign nationals (including individuals of non-western appearance)… Even those working with dedicated protection teams should exercise extreme caution.”

I don’t think the abusive security guards counts as a ‘dedicated protection team’, either.

This was a dangerous and ill-conceived plan which, had it not been such a spectacular failure, may well have put people’s lives at risk. It doesn’t take Henry Kissinger to work out that Baghdad and southern/central Iraq is still dangerous – you just have to open a newspaper to read reports of bombings, shootings, kidnapping and torture. NOT a safe place to which refused asylum seekers can be removed. While it may be politically inconvenient for the government to continue providing refugee protection to Iraqis whose asylum claims have been turned down, until the place is safe enough for people to return to, that’s precisely what they should be doing.

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Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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