Iraqi parliament refuses to accept nationals deported from Europe

Owen Bowcott
An Iraqi asylum seeker in his 14th-floor flat in Liverpool. Photograph:
Baghdad bans forced return of deportees and threatens to fine airlines that carry failed asylum seekers
Christopher Thomond for the Guardian
The Iraqi parliament has banned the forced return from Europe of tens of thousands of failed asylum seekers and threatened to fine airlines that take part in deportation programmes.

The unilateral declaration has already resulted in deportees being turned back at the border, according to the London-based refugee support organisation that has lobbied for the policy change.

For the past year, the United Kingdom has been unable to remove Iraqis, even after they have lost the right to remain in Britain, owing to legal disputes over their reception at Baghdad airport and the state of security within Iraq.

Across Europe, tens of thousands of Iraqis are in legal limbo, waiting to have asylum claims processed or under threat of return to the Middle East if their applications have been rejected.

Physical mistreatment of Iraqi Kurds at Baghdad airport, sectarian violence and al-Qaida bombings at one stage led the European court of human rights in Strasbourg to intervene, blocking deportations on the grounds that many areas remained too dangerous. The UK has failed to return any rejected Iraqi asylum seekers since last spring. The regional parliament in Iraqi Kurdistan blocked forced returns from European airports several years ago; last month, the Iraqi parliament, known as the Council of Representatives, voted to extend the ban nationally.

The four-part motion ordered the Iraqi government to refuse to accept forcibly returned Iraqi refugees, to review a memorandum of understanding between Sweden and Iraq regarding the repatriation of Iraqi refugees, to fine companies that returned forcibly deported refugees, and to hold a conference on the issue of Iraqi refugees abroad.

Millions of Iraqis fled the country after the British and US invasion in 2003 that overthrew Saddam Hussein. Most went to neighbouring Arab countries but large numbers sought sanctuary in Europe.

The ban on forced returns was promoted by the International Federation of Iraqi Refugees (IFIR), based in London, which has been campaigning against deportations in Iraq and Kurdistan.

Dashty Jamal, of the IFIR, said: “This is a great victory for Iraqi refugees, who are the victims of war and oppression. Norway and Denmark have been sending refugees back by force recently. They will now have to stop.

“I understand some people have already been turned back at the border since the weekend.

“We know that there are at least 1,300 Iraqi refugees in the Netherlands alone who have been threatened with being sent back. Sweden has said that it has received 20,000 asylum applications from Iraqis since 2003.”

The Home Office was unable to say how many failed Iraqi asylum seekers remained in the UK.

The IFIR believes relatively few Iraqis are in UK immigration detention centres; people are not normally detained unless there is an immediate prospect of their removal.

A British government spokesman said it was aware of the vote but questioned whether it was binding. A Home Office spokesman added: “We continue to make returns to Iraq on a case by case basis.”

A Foreign Office spokesman said: “I am not aware of any other countries that refuse to accept deportees. The UK courts have confirmed, however, that we are able to return people to Iraq, and that return of Kurds via Baghdad is permitted.”

Frontex, the EU agency that co-ordinates deportation flights and border security with member states, said it had not organised any return flights since last autumn.

A spokeswoman said: “There have been other examples of countries refusing to accept their nationals: in the 1990s the authorities opposed Roma returnees to Kosovo because they could not guarantee their safety.”