The government has backed down on its plan to begin deportations to Baghdad this month after nation-wide protests by Iraqi asylum seekers.
Home Office officials have told the Observer that the repatriation scheme, which could have affected thousands of Iraqi asylum seekers, has been put on hold. The UK would have been the first country to begin deportations to Iraq. But both forced and voluntary ‘returns’ have been suspended following a memo from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) which warned the British government of a ‘climate of instability’ in Iraq. The memo described the ‘alarming frequency’ of ‘security incidents targeting both coalition forces and, increasingly, Iraqis’.
Last month, the International Federation of Iraqi Refugees (IFIR) launched a nation-wide campaign against the deportation plan, with protests in Hull, Manchester, Stoke and London. Around seventy demonstrators attended a protest outside the Home Office on 8 April 2004 and presented a petition of 1,200 signatures, demanding that the government cancel deportations to Iraq.
Dashty Jamal, UK chair of IFIR, called the deportation plan ‘a second war against the Iraqi people’ and argued that the British government had its own political reasons for saying that Iraq was safe, as part of its justification for the occupation of the country. But in recent weeks, the dangers of returning asylum seekers to Iraq have become undeniable. Neither the UNHCR, nor the International Organisation for Migration which manages the ‘voluntary returns’ programme, have facilities in Iraq as they consider it too dangerous.
Although Iraqi asylum seekers have won a temporary reprieve from the threat of deportation, their lives remain locked in desperation and uncertainty. Their status as ‘failed asylum seekers’ remains in place and most are effectively destitute, unable to work legally or claim benefits.