Friday, November 05, 2010

European Union / Iraq

European Court Demands Halt to Forcible Return of Iraqi Asylum Seekers
By Owen Bowcott
The Guardian, November 5, 2010
"The government's programme of deporting failed asylum seekers to Iraq has been thrown into confusion after the European court of human rights ruled that forcible returns to Baghdad should be suspended immediately because of an upsurge in sectarian violence and suicide bombings. The court decision has already led to the Netherlands halting all removal flights to Iraq. In the UK, the Home Office pledged to 'continue to undertake' deportations but acknowledged that in cases where the Strasbourg court supported petitions from individuals it would not enforce removal. Since the European court of human rights (ECHR) has indicated that requests from Iraqis heading for Baghdad should, for the time being, be granted as a matter of routine, it means that many Iraqi deportees who apply to the court will be allowed to stay in Britain. But the impact of this legal advice could trigger a clash with the Strasbourg court. The Kurdish regional government in the north of Iraq already refuses to accept flights from the UK which carry forcibly deported Kurds, so the latest restriction will effectively prevent the government removing most Iraqis for the time being.
... Mohammed Omar Hassan, who came to the UK from Iraq in 2003, said yesterday that his flight had been cancelled and he had been released from custody in Brook House immigration detention centre, near Gatwick airport, because of the ECHR ruling. 'I hope the British government follows this decision and stops sending back to a country ruled by several different dictators, and releases all Iraqi people from detention,' he said. The ECHR ruling comes at an awkward political moment as the UK Border Agency steps up mass removals. Charter flights ferrying 50-60 Iraqi failed asylum seekers to Baghdad are leaving at the rate of about one a month. The latest batch of detained Iraqis has been issued with tickets dated 11 November. The security situation in Iraq deteriorated further this week. There were 16 bomb blasts, killing more than 70 people and injuring 250, in Baghdad on Tuesday. Most of the victims were Shia Muslims. The co-ordinated attacks came the day after a Catholic church congregation was taken hostage; 58 people died in that incident. European governments have, nonetheless, been accelerating removals in response to domestic political demands to curtail immigration. That, in turn, has led to international concern over forcible returns to central Iraq. In the summer, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees publicly objected to European states, including the UK and Scandinavian countries, sending Iraqis back to the five central governorates, or provinces, including Baghdad. The agency maintains that the centre of the country is not safe. ... There are thousands of Iraqis in the UK facing the threat of deportation. Many fled to Britain in the 1990s when Saddam Hussein was in power. Others have arrived since the 2003 invasion, seeking asylum on grounds that their lives would be at risk if they were sent back. At least one of those forcibly returned was killed in a bomb attack. [...]"

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