According to the International Federation of Iraq Refugees (IFIR), which immediately issued a press release that, unfortunately, did not include the words “Carla Bruni” in its title, the plane arrived at Arbil airport in Iraqi Kurdistan at 3 am on Friday morning (see: http://www.csdiraq.com/archives/press%20release%2028%20March%202008.pdf). Confused, tired and unsure of where they were, the men refused to leave the plane. The Home Office guards then called for assistance from guards of the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG), who were waiting at the airport. 25 of these men boarded the plane, and “pushed and threatened the asylum seekers off the plane onto two waiting coaches.”
The ITIR press release continued, “At the airport the asylum seekers noticed three jeeps observing them, which they thought contained UNHCR personnel [from the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees], but they were not allowed to talk to the people in the jeeps.” They were then transported to Ain Kawa Bridge, in a village near Arbil, where they were abandoned, even though many of them were injured and all of them had lost their luggage, including their all-important mobile phones. An eye-witness reported that the KRG guards “knew nothing about human rights.” “If I had seen it in a film,” he said, “I would not have believed it.”
Compounding the men’s plight, many are not even from Kurdistan, but from cities further south, including Mosul and Kirkuk, even though, as ITIR noted, “people from this area have generally not been removed by the Home Office in the past” (see: http://www.csdiraq.com/archives/press%20release%2027%20March%202008.pdf). Rizgar Bahem, from Mosul, protested about being abandoned at the bridge, and tried to reason with the guards. “I am not from Kurdistan,” he said. “Why are you leaving me here?” The guards’ leader “responded by hitting him with the muzzle of his gun and pushed him off the coach.”
Even those from Kurdistan are not necessarily safe. As IFIR noted last November ( http://www.csdiraq.com/archives/000234.html), on the second anniversary of the forced deportation of 15 Iraqi Kurds on a military plane from Brize Norton airbase in Oxfordshire, “The Iraqi Kurdish asylum seekers are not criminals. They are civilians and victims of the war in Iraq. Kurdistan is not an independent state and is not part of stable state. Thus the Kurdish people are in limbo and the future of their lives is uncertain.”
Last February, when around 50 others were forcibly deported, Amnesty International issued an even more strongly worded response ( http://www.amnesty.org.uk/news_details.asp?NewsID=17261). Jan Shaw, the UK’s Refugee Programme Director, explained, “Forcing people back to Iraq, even to the North, will put people's lives at risk. Amnesty remains opposed to any forcible return of asylum-seekers to Iraq, including to the Kurdish region. In post-conflict situations people should not be returned unless there is stability and a durable peace; neither of those is true in Iraq. Given the colossal scale of fighting and bloodshed in the country, it is hard to describe Iraq's situation as 'post-conflict' at all. Imagine how terrifying it must be for those watching the chaos unfolding in Iraq on the news to then receive a letter from the government stating that they are about to be flown back there.”
Over the last few years, the British government has returned over a hundred ”failed asylum seekers” to Iraqi Kurdistan. Previous deportations have at least been covered in the media, but the silence in this latest case suggests that ”deportation fatigue” has set in.
On the other hand, it may be that everyone’s still blinded by the presence of Carla Bruni, although on this matter, as on so many others, the wife of the French President has expressed no opinion.
For further information on the deportation, email Dashty Jamal, IFIR’s Secretary on: email@example.com
Andy Worthington is the author of ”The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison” ( http://www.andyworthington.co.uk/?page_id=17).