Between Iraq and a hard place

Between Iraq and a hard place

Written by: Arun Kundnani

Today, Iraqis will protest outside the Home Office against the government’s plan to begin deportations to Baghdad. IRR News spoke to one Iraqi asylum seeker about the hard choice between destitution and deportation.

When Sady Hussein walked through the security barrier at the immigration court, he set alarm bells ringing. Worried officials searched him for weapons and bombs before realising that the metal detectors were being triggered by the forty pieces of shrapnel lodged in his skin. On another occasion, while walking along Ealing Broadway, London, he was pushed up against a wall by police officers suspicious of the way his shirt sleeve was tucked into his trouser pocket. In 1991, Sady lost most of his right arm when he opened a booby-trapped car door during fighting in Kurdistan.

Like thousands of other Iraqis, 29-year-old Sady is a ‘failed asylum seeker’, marooned in a legal limbo. To normal society he is invisible, disallowed from working, claiming benefits or accessing medical treatment. Officially his only status is that of a number in a Home Office file awaiting a removal order. While his asylum claim was still being processed, he was shunted around the country, living in bedsits in Portsmouth, Walsall and London. Then, two months ago, he was informed that he had to leave his accommodation.

To survive, he depends on the charity of friends, and organisations like the YMCA. While other Iraqis in this situation have eked out a living in the undocumented economy, Sady’s disability has closed off that option. And the operation to remove the shrapnel from his body, which doctors had promised would ease the pain of his injuries, has been denied him now that, to the NHS, he no longer exists.

To the Home Office, there is no reason why Sady should not go home. It has announced that the UK will be the first European country to return unsuccessful Iraqi asylum seekers, like Sady. It hopes that some Iraqis will opt for a ‘voluntary’ returns package, organised by the International Organisation for Migration. But it also anticipates forced deportations to Baghdad airport, starting from this month.

No going back

Despite the desperation of his situation in Britain and the fact that he has not seen his wife and child for three years, Sady is still fearful of returning home. ‘I’m not going back unless they take my dead body’, he says.

His fears are echoed by the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees who has warned that Iraq remains too dangerous to receive rejected asylum seekers. Dashty Jamal, of the International Federation of Iraqi Refugees, which is organising today’s protests, has called the deportation plan ‘a second war on the Iraqi people’ and argued that ‘the British government should create a peaceful society and end the occupation before talking about sending people back’.

When he arrived in Britain in September 2001, Sady Hussein was confident that his plight would be recognised and he would be granted refugee status. He even brought with him a videotape and 36 different documents as evidence. ‘After my first Home Office interview I was really happy’, says Sady. ‘I thought I would maybe get my refugee status. I didn’t expect to receive a letter saying they had refused me.’

But his case did not fit the narrow parameters of Home Office decision-making. As a young man, Sady joined the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), one of the factions that fought against Saddam Hussein’s militia in 1991. But he grew disillusioned with its nationalist politics and left to work for a radio station and an independent magazine. After speaking publicly against it at meetings, he was repeatedly arrested by the PUK and beaten up in prison. After the fourth arrest, his family bribed prison guards to release him and arranged for his escape from Iraq. Sady says other members of his family have been killed by the PUK and, if he returns, his life will be in danger.

He believes that the Home Office had already decided to reject his claim before his interview, as part of a policy of blanket refusals. ‘They know what is going on in northern Iraq but they don’t want to admit the reality.’

Like many others, he now faces a grim choice: destitution or deportation.

Related links

No forced returns to Iraq – IRR report

For more information on the campaign against deportations, contact the International Federation of Iraqi Refugees in Britain on 07734 704742.

The Institute of Race Relations is precluded from expressing a corporate view: any opinions expressed are therefore those of the authors.

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