Over the last ten days the Home Office has been arresting rejected Iraqi Kurdish asylum seekers in Manchester, Birmingham and Doncaster, presumably with a view to attempting another forced removal to Northern Iraq.
This is happening at a time when the UNHCR is warning that Iraq cannot deal with the number of displaced persons it already has, and George Bush intends to send 21,500 more troops to Iraq.
The Coalition to Stop Deportations to Iraq (CSDI) protests in the strongest possible terms against these arrests.
We have said before, and we repeat now, that Iraq, including Kurdistan, is dangerous, and that it is wrong to return people there. People who had problems with the Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP) or the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) or Islamist groups in the past will still be at risk if they are sent back now – the KDP and PUK are still in power, and the Islamists are still active.
The general security situation in Iraq is not good, and conditions for ordinary people are very difficult, even in Kurdistan – little electricity or oil for heating or cooking, water shortages, inflation, housing shortages, lack of decent jobs, restrictions on freedom of speech etc. Frequent protests take place against poor living conditions, the corruption and incompetence of the authorities, and the protests are often met with violence and mass arrests.
Indeed, the latest UNHCR report on Iraq recognises that conditions in Kurdistan are problematic. It lists some of these problems and states that governments may therefore wish to extend humanitarian protection to people who have not been found in need of protection under the 1951 Refugee Convention.
Similarly, the European Council on Exiles and Refugees (ECRE) said in its March 2006 report: ‘ECRE believes that the current situation in Iraq is such that the mandatory or forced return of Iraqis is unacceptable, and recommends a continued ban on forced return to any part of the country, including the Kurdish Autonomous Region.’
CSDI is aware that people who were forcibly returned last year have suffered various problems since their return and some have had to leave the area again. But the Home Office seems determined to send people back and to ignore the reality of conditions there. CSDI recently received the Home Office’s reply to a letter in which we explained why people should not be sent back. It claimed that conditions in Northern Iraq are suitable for returns and tried to shift responsibility for what happens onto the International Organisation for Migration, the organisation the Home Office uses to operate ‘voluntary returns’ to Northern Iraq.
We call on the Home Office to:
- Recognise that Iraq is not safe, and that people should not be returned there.
- To regularise the status of asylum seekers from Iraq to whom they have so far refused protection, by giving them leave to remain, and the right either to work or to decent levels of benefits, in line with the proposals made by the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants in their document ‘Recognising Rights, Recognising Political Realities’ published on 13 July 2006.
- To explain why they apparently plan to return people to Kurdistan even given the recent statements by UNHCR both about refugee protection and Iraq’s inability to deal with the displaced persons it already has.