UK carries on sending people back to Iraq, despite the dangers

The UK government has announced that it will continue removing refused asylum seekers to Baghdad, despite the European Court of Human Rights “effectively calling for a freeze on the practice”, as the BBC puts it. You may have heard Foreign Office minister Alistair Burt talking about it on the news this morning.

On 22 October the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) wrote to the UK, Swedish and Dutch governments telling them that any Iraqi who challenges his or her return in the Court would have their removal suspended. As a result, the Netherlands have suspended all removals (I’m not sure about the Swedes).

The ECHR did this because of the deteriorating security situation in Iraq, and because it was receiving so many “Rule 39 requests” (where a refused asylum seeker can apply to the court to stop their removal once they’ve exhausted all domestic appeals).

Needless to say, we’ve written to the UK government about this shameful state of affairs. They confirmed to us that they would continue trying to remove people regardless. They also acknowledged that anyone applying to the ECHR for Rule 39 does have their removal suspended – so effectively they are just trying to catch out anyone who doesn’t know about this ruling, or who doesn’t have decent legal representation. Sadly this still includes far too many people.

Over 170 Iraqis have been returned from the UK to Baghdad since October 2009. Most removals have taken place in breach of UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) guidelines for assessing the protection needs of Iraqi asylum-seekers.

The UNHCR advises that no forcible returns should be conducted to the five provinces identified as the most dangerous in Iraq and declared 'unsafe'; namely Baghdad, Ninewa (Mosul), Kirkuk, Diyala and Salah al-Din. Amnesty agrees – we’re opposed to all forcible removals to central and southern Iraq, until the security situation improves considerably.

Of course, the UK government is entitled to remove people if their asylum claim has failed and it’s safe to return them. But Iraq is still incredibly dangerous. Armed groups, in particular Al-Qaeda in Iraq and its allies, are capable of inflicting very high numbers of casualties through suicide and other bomb attacks at will and virtually anywhere in the country. Scores of former members of the so-called Awakening Councils – Sunni Muslim militia who helped the US forces – are still armed and increasingly disgruntled with the Shia government-in-waiting. Some are reportedly joining Al-Qaeda after it issued threats against them and their families.

So, on one side you have the European Court of Human Rights, the United Nations refugee agency and Amnesty International, all saying that forcible removals should stop. On the other you have the UK government. We’re asking people to email UK immigration minister Damian Green, urging him to stop these removals – please join us here.

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