The International Federation of Iraqi Refugees (IFIR) has launched a campaign against the planned deportation of Iraqi asylum seekers from the UK, saying that the general climate of instability in Iraq, along with the lack of basic services, makes it dangerous to force Iraqis to return.
The Home Office has announced that it plans to begin deportations to Baghdad shortly but Iraqi asylum seekers in the UK believe that the country remains unsafe – a view shared by the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees (UNHCR).
At a meeting held in Stoke-on-Trent on 21 March 2004, attended by 150 asylum seekers and their supporters, speakers from the Iraqi community explained why the proposed deportations would be dangerous. Dashty Jamal, UK chair of IFIR, called the deportations ‘a second war against the Iraqi people’ and said that the British government chooses to tell its people that Iraq has been made safe as part of its justification for the occupation of the country. Since the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime, thousands of Iraqis in Britain have had their benefits stopped and been prevented from working legally or accessing public services.
Speaking at a press conference a few days earlier, UNHCR spokesperson Kris Janowski recommended that all Iraqi asylum seekers should be granted ‘some form of temporary protection’. There continues to be violence in Iraq directed at policemen, religious and community leaders and Iraqi staff working for foreign organisations, he said.
Janowski said that there remains ‘potential for increased violence, given the persistence of extremist elements and tensions among Iraq’s various ethnic and religious groups. This includes northern Iraq, which continues to experience sectarian tensions. In addition to the security situation, there is a severe lack of housing, irregular provision of basic services, no effective judicial system or financial institutions, and an unemployment rate running as high as 60-70 per cent.’
While UNHCR has been faciliating the voluntary return of a small number of Iraqi refugees who have expressed a clear wish to go home, the organisation stresses that it has no infrastructure on the ground to support those returning. Iraq’s Minister of Displacement and Migration, Mohammed J Khodair, has joined the UNHCR in recommending that no returns should be made at present.
Amnesty International has also described the situation in Iraq as precarious, saying that ‘millions of people have suffered the consequences of destroyed or looted infrastructure, mass unemployment and uncertainty about their future’. Up to 15,000 Iraqis are reported to be held in detention by the Coalition Provisional Authority. Some have been held without charge for months and a number of detainees have been tortured and ill-treated, says Amnesty.
IFIR, which has around 500 members across the UK, plans to hold a series of demonstrations later this month to protest against the plans to start deportations to Iraq. A demonstration outside the Home Office will take place on 8 April 2004 as well as a public meeting in Hull on 3 April. There are also events set to take place in Manchester, Nottingham, Leicester and Birmingham.
IFIR, which currently receives no funding, is urgently appealing for donations to support its campaign for the rights of Iraqi asylum seekers. Please make donations to account ‘UUI’, LIoyds TSB, 45 Cranbrook Road, Ilford IG1 4PD, sort code:30 94 51, account number: 11610268.