Erbil, June 18 (AKnews) – The UK government is planning to deport some 70 Kurdish refugees – due to arrive in Baghdad this week - amid criticism from refugee groups.
The deportations come as refugee groups have warned that the lives of the refugees will be put at risk by sending them back to Iraq where they had fled violence and life threats.
"On June 21, 70 Kurdish refugees will be forcibly deported from Britain to Baghdad airport," Dashti Jamal, secretary of the International Federation of Iraqi Refugees (IFIR) told AKnews.
On Wednesday the UK government deported some 16 Kurdish refugees who landed in Baghdad airport. According to the IFIR, some 250 Iraqi refugees mainly Kurds have been deported from Europe this year, and some 700 others are awaiting the same fate.
IFIR's Kurdistan-based official Amanj Abdullah has said the Iraqi government signed a deal with European countries wanting to deport Iraqis in return for dropping Iraqi debts. Other countries that started forced deportations via Baghdad in 2005 are Sweden, Denmark, Norway and Finland.
Some 5,000 to 6,000 Iraqi refugees, most of them Kurds, have been deported from Europe since 2005, according to IFIR figures.
In May, Swedish ambassador to Iraq Karl Magnus denied claims of a behind-the-curtains deal between Sweden and Iraq to deport Iraqis in return for loans being dropped. He did not, however, deny the deportations.
"What is circulated in the media about a deal… to deport Iraqis is not true," Ambassador Magnus told AKnews, adding that, "we reject asylum only to Kurds because the Kurdistan Region is enjoying security and economic stability therefore Kurdish Iraqi citizens do not need asylum in our country."
A UK Border Agency spokesman, however, said to the BBC in August 2010: "Currently we have an agreement with the government of Iraq to return all Iraqi citizens to Baghdad".
"Deported Refugees Exposed to Danger"
A statement posted on the website of the National Coalition of Anti Deportation Campaigns, a refugee group, says that many of those who have been deported to Iraq are now living in hiding, in fear of persecution because "most of them are from the disputed areas" and had originally fled from the violence there.
The disputed areas are those territorially contested between the regional government of Kurdistan and Baghdad. Many of the insurgent groups like al-Qaeda, the Islamic State of Iraq, and Naqishbandi group are active in these volatile regions.
"This number includes women and children as well. Three of those refugees to be deported have gone on a hunger strike and have not eaten anything for the past three days," the IFIR secretary said.
On June 24, some 24 Iraqi refugees, most of them Kurds, in Campsfield House Immigration Removal Centre, UK, went on strike as the UK government said it was preparing to send them back to Iraq.
Among the 70 Kurds to be deported is a young Kurdish man from Iraq's volatile province of Dyala, Adam Aziz, who has been living in the UK for almost four years with his partner Joanne. They were planning to marry before authorities caught up with him to announce his deportation.
UNHCR has voiced concerns regarding the forced deportations to Iraq on several occasions. In January, the UNHCR's Melissa Fleming said "Our position reflects the volatile security situation and the still high level of prevailing violence, security incidents, and human rights violations taking place in these parts of Iraq."
"UNHCR considers that serious – including indiscriminate – threats to life, physical integrity or freedom resulting from violence or events seriously disturbing public order are valid reasons for international protection" she said.
Iraq's Immigration Minister Dindar Doski, a Kurd, told AKnews that Iraq cannot do anything to press the UK government to stop deporting Iraqi refugees, "because those countries are independent countries with their own laws and do not care what we want."
"To be forcibly deported to Iraq these refugees must have been refused asylum by the countries." Doski said.
Doski suggested that the refugees with failed asylum cases should take advantage of the financial support given by the UK government to those voluntarily returning.
"After the refugees refuse to return to their own countries or leave the host country, the country's authorities will forcibly deport them to Iraq and they will also lose the financial assistance which is up to US$15,000 because they do not leave the country normally."
By Raber Y. Aziz, additional reporting by Fryad Mohammed (AKnews)