On 6 September, Solyman Rashed, an asylum seeker who had been deported to Iraq from the UK, was killed by a car bomb in Kirkuk, after only having been back in the country for two weeks.
Solyman had been held in various immigration detention centres for fifteen months after being arrested in May 2006 when he was homeless and destitute. Although he accepted ‘voluntary return’ to Iraq, the London Detainee Support Group who worked with him says that Solyman despaired after having been refused bail around ten times over the course of his detention. When his last application was refused in July, Solyman felt that he would never be released from detention and agreed to return voluntarily. He was deported to Baghdad on 15 August and travelled to his home town of Kirkuk where he was killed just over two weeks later.
A member of Scottish Detainee Visitors, who had spent time with Solyman when he was being held at Dungavel removal centre, said that, ‘he always tried to make us laugh and was a real support to other detainees. However I saw his physical and mental health deteriorate over time and he talked about having nightmares of dying if he returned to Iraq.’
‘Solyman told us that he was desperate to leave detention,’ said Jerome Phelps of the London Detainee Support Group (LDSG). ‘He knew how dangerous the situation is in Iraq, but felt that he was given no other option than to return. LDSG believes that Iraqi detainees who cannot be deported should be released, at least until the security situation improves.’
Solyman’s family have spoken to detainees in Colnbrook removal centre, who were shocked to hear the news. Many Iraqi Kurds in Colnbrook are from Kirkuk or Baghdad. Most have been detained for long periods, in some cases more than a year, and face the same impossible dilemma that cost Solyman his life. The LDSG has reported that, of the Iraqi Kurds detained in Colnbrook, three have serious mental health conditions that should make them ineligible for detention and at least one is a survivor of torture.
The UNHCR has warned that Iraq cannot deal with the number of displaced persons it already has and has advised governments against making forced removals to Iraq until the security situation has improved. Despite this, the government is due to start forcibly deporting asylum seekers to northern Iraq after a pause of six months.
A vigil to mark Solyman’s death took place at George Square, Glasgow, on 20 September.