For the third time in less than two years, a 'charter flight' left the :: RAF Brize Norton military base in Oxfordshire, UK on 12. Feb 2007, carrying 50+ Iraqi-Kurdish asylum seekers, who had been :: arrested and detained from across the UK, to Erbil, Kurdistan (Northern Iraq).
Some 60 protesters gathered at the gates of Brize Norton this morning, in a :: protest called by :: Coalition to Stop Deportations to Iraq, the :: International Federation of Iraqi Refugees, and :: Campaign to Close Campsfield. It followed :: other protests over the weekend in Leicester, Manchester, and :: London, where more then 200 protestors demanded the closing of all detention centres outside Harmondsworth/Colnbrook detention centre (see list of reports in left column). But neither these protests nor the repeated warnings from national and international human rights organisations [:: UNHCR :: Amnesty] managed to convince the Home Office of halting forced removals to unsafe Iraq.
The :: National Coalition of Anti-Deportation Campaigns listed 64 charter flights in the last 12 months (February 2006 to January 2007) from the UK removing those who have been refused asylum. In numbers 51 charter flights to Eastern Europe (Operation Aardvark), 11 Charter flights to Afghanistan (Operation Ravel), and 2 Charter flights to Kurdistan.
In the run-up to today's deportations, the Home Office have consistently refused to reveal any details (date, names etc.) concerning the 'operation', not even to the deportees' solicitors. For reasons of "operational security", they said, "it is not the policy of the Immigration Service to disclose logistical information about such removals, but we anticipate removal will be before the end of February."
Initial reports had suggested the date of the charter flight would be 27 January, but that flight seems to have been cancelled. Later on, reports from detainee support groups confirmed that the flight was scheduled on 12 February from the Brize Norton RAF base, but the time was not confirmed. Detainees in Tynsley House were told by staff that they must hand over their phones and be ready to leave at 4am. However, the solicitor acting for one of the detainees said the Judge considering his matter had confirmed with the Home Office that the plane would be flying at 2pm.
This secrecy can be only explained by the Home Office's attempt to avoid the growing pressure and embarrassment caused by campaigners and protesters. "They must have learned something from the previous times after all," as one protester put it.
Don't They Read the Papers?!
Thanks to Bush and Blair and their allies, Iraq has turned into a bloodbath. With Iraqi death toll already estimated at around 650,000, killings and violence have become part of everyday life for most Iraqis.
As a war zone, Iraq continues to be :: listed as one of the countries 'creating refugees'. Last month, the United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, :: warned that the scale of internal displacement in Iraq has gone beyond the capacity of humanitarian agencies. UNHCR :: estimates that 2 million Iraqis are now living outside the country as refugees, including those who left before 2003 but have failed to return due to the country's catastrophic situation. Another 1.7 million Iraqis have been internally displaced recently. At least 500,000 people fled their homes in 2006 as a result of US military repression and the rise in sectarian violence. It is thought that 80,000 to 100,000 people are joining the ranks of internal and external refugees each month.
The argument the Home Office has used to deport Iraqi-Kurdish asylum seekers to Kurdistan (northern Iraq) is that the northern parts of the country, unlike the rest, are "relatively safe". This is, of course, totally unfounded. In its :: position paper on Iraq, UNHCR recently said that the security situation in the three northern governorates (Sulaymaniyah, Erbil and Duhok), "remains tense and unpredictable" and that "careful consideration" must be given before any returns are carried out." The UK is so far the only European country to forcibly 'remove' asylum seekers to Iraq.
Even the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), who were apparently aware of the Home Office's intention to deport a number of rejected Iraqi-Kurdish asylum seekers, do not seem to agree with this policy. KRG representative in the UK Bayan Rahman has reportedly written to the Home Office saying they "object to any forced returns".
"This is so ridiculous," said one Iraq refugee, who preferred to keep anonymous, commenting on the Home Office's declaring Northern Iraq "safe to return". "Don't these people read the papers?!"
This article was published first on 12. Feb 2007 @ :: UK Indymedia.