The government has been organising deportations of Sri Lankans and Iraqis despite the dangers they face on return – but has met with resistance.
On 16 June, just two days after the screening of Channel 4’s shocking exposé of the war crimes against Sri Lanka’s Tamils in ‘Sri Lanka’s killing fields’ and the day after prime minister David Cameron called for an investigation into the allegations, forty-two refused Sri Lankan asylum seekers were deported from the UK to Colombo. The flight went ahead despite Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch expressing their grave concern that those deported face the risk of detention and torture, as most are Tamils, and are therefore suspected of belonging to or supporting the defeated Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). Labour’s Siobahn McDonagh MP claimed that when the flight landed, the Sri Lankan CID was waiting for it, but no representative from the British High Commission. But the Home Office claims that the situation in Sri Lanka has improved and that it is safe to remove people there. It was reported that on the eve of the flight, on 15 June, one of the detainees, 31-year-old Nagendrarajah Suthakaran, attempted to hang himself after receiving a phoned death threat from Sri Lanka. He and two others who had also had death threats won a last-minute reprieve from the High Court. According to the Medical Foundation, another removal flight to Sri Lanka was scheduled for today.
Campaign against forcible deportations to Iraq
The UK Border Agency (UKBA) also planned a charter flight on 21 June to deport around seventy Iraqis to Baghdad. The National Coalition of Anti-Deportation Campaigns (NCADC) reported that UKBA started rounding up Iraqis in the fortnight before the flight, detaining them at Campsfield (Oxfordshire), Brook House (Gatwick), Colnbrook and Harmondsworth near Heathrow. The attempt flew in the face of advice from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), who said that in view of the volatile security situation and the’ still high level of prevailing violence, security incidents, and human rights violations’, Iraqis should not be returned to the governates of Baghdad, Dyala, Ninewa and Sala-al-Din or Kirkuk province, but should ‘continue to benefit from international protection.’ Twenty-four Iraqis at Campsfield went on hunger strike in protest after Iraqi officials visited them to confirm their nationality. The International Federation of Iraqi Refugees (IFIR) launched an international campaign to put pressure on the Baghdad and Kurdistan regional governments to refuse to accept the flight or any deportation flight. Westminster MPs and MEPs from the European Parliament are among those who have signed the campaign’s petition. On the day of the planned deportation, anti-deportation campaigners blockaded the entrances to Colnbrook and Harmondsworth, some attaching themselves to concrete barrels, stopping coaches carrying thirty of the detainees to the airport. At the same time, lawyers from the Immigration Advisory Service (IAS) went to the High Court and obtained an injunction preventing the removal of anyone not leaving voluntarily, on the strength of evidence of torture and ill-treatment of previously returned Iraqis, in particular Kurds. In the event, according to IFIR’s Dashty Jamal, the flight took off with only nine or ten Iraqis aboard.
IFIR wants to keep up the pressure, claiming that around 700 Iraqi asylum seekers, mostly Kurds, are due to be deported from four different European countries in the next month. IFIR believes that the Iraqi government has agreed to take deported Iraqis in return for cancellation of debt. Demonstrations and a press conference in Iraq are planned.
The campaign petition against forcible deportations to Iraq is on IFIR’s website, at International Federation of Iraqi Refugees