By Karen Johnson
The Coalition to Stop Deportations to Iraq was formed in early 2006 following the deportation of 15 Iraqi Kurdish asylum seekers back to Erbil Airport in Iraqi Kurdistan.
They were returned on something the Home Office calls a “voluntary return order”. In fact the asylum seekers had been both threatened and bribed to return to Iraq after being held in detention centres for many months.
Their detention ended when they were woken up in the middle of the night by Home Office officials who threatened them one minute — saying they would be eventually be sent home forcibly anyway — and bribed them the next, promising them if they signed voluntary return orders they would be given £1000, help in finding accommodation and training to find work. Of course no money or retraining was forthcoming.
The asylum seekers were given no opportunity to collect their belongings. They were pushed out of the detention centres by armed guards, handcuffed and put into a coach and transferred to Brize Norton airbase near Oxford. On the flight they were given flak jackets (this in a safe country?!) They were pushed out onto the runway at Erbil in Iraqi Kurdistan. And they were left to be picked up by the Kurdish nationalist party, the PUK.
The Coalition believes their treatment breaches the Geneva Convention.
The Home Office commissioned a second flight in September 2006, again from Brize Norton, Oxford. This time 34 Kurdish Iraqi asylum seekers were forcibly deported. They were treated pretty much the same.
On the day of this flight the Coalition set up a lobby of the Home Office and handed a petition of over 1000 signatures calling for the end of all deportations to Iraq.
But we were growing increasingly concerned about the fate of the asylum seekers once they reached Iraq, so we decided to send Dashty Jamal to Iraq to track the returned asylum-seekers and to speak to the Kurdish authorities to persuade them to refuse to accept future plane loads of forcibly deported asylum seekers from Europe.
Dashty arrived in Iraq at the end of January. The Kurdish authorities denied any knowledge of a deal with the British Home Office to accept forcibly returned asylum seekers.
Dashty spoke to the family of Sadullah Kakil, who had been killed by a car bombing on 28 January 2007. Sadullah was among the first asylum seekers deported in November 2005. He was only eighteen when he came to the UK in 2001. Sadullah reluctantly accepted a “voluntary return” after his application for asylum had been turned down. He was promised £3000 to help him resettle, but received approximately £500.
Dashty also spoke to Burhan Namiq, an asylum seeker who had been returned on the September flight. Burhan Narniq had been so stressed by the experience he suffered a heart attack only two days after arriving in Kurdistan.
Bourhan spoke of his experience: “I was taken to hospital but because of a strike in the hospital I was sent away without any treatment. I am unemployed and my family can’t do anything for me. I think daily of committing suicide. Since I was forcibly returned to Kurdistan I have attempted suicide twice.”
Dashty spoke to Balen Sabir and Mahmud Muhammad from Said’sadiq, both of whom were forcibly returned to Iraq on the September flight. Neither of them had found employment and both of them were angry about their treatment by the UK authorities. Mahmud said the PUK had already started threatening him for his political activity. Mahmud was clearly worried and feared he may be forced to leave Kurdistan again.
On the 12 February 2007 the Home Office commissioned a third flight of 38 Kurdish asylum seekers. So far 87 Iraqi asylum seekers have been deported back to Iraq.
Please help us make this the last plane of asylum-seekers sent back to an uncertain future in Iraq. Join the Coalition to Stop Deportations to Iraq. Our website is www.csdiraq.com