Do we care where we send the most vulnerable?

Many Western states are very keen to prematurely return asylum seekers to their country of origin despite the inherent dangers. Afghanistan or Sri Lanka yet safe? Of course not, but at least it’s one less problem for the government. And now this:

Two asylum seekers who were deported to Baghdad and claim they were tortured on arrival by Iraqi officials have been returned to Britain because they were found not to be Iraqi.

The confusion over the men’s nationality and the allegations they have made are among admissions made by the Foreign Office in a letter to the European court of human rights (ECHR) arguing for a resumption of removals to Baghdad.

In October, the Strasbourg court ruled that deportations to Baghdad should be suspended because of the upsurge in violence in the Iraqi capital.

That decision, according to refugee groups, was not immediately publicised by the Home Office or made known to Iraqis who could have avoided being removed.

Amnesty International today called on European governments to halt forcible deportations to Baghdad and respect the court’s decision.

It also said it was aware of “credible reports of Iraqis being detained on arrival at Baghdad airport … beaten, deprived of food and threatened by Iraqi security officials whilst in detention after their forcible removal to Iraq“.

The Foreign Office letter, seen by the Guardian, shows that the Office of the UN high commissioner for refugees (UNHCR) has repeatedly raised concerns about the alleged ill-treatment of unsuccessful asylum-seekers being transported to the Middle East.

The UK Border Agency, the letter reveals, is investigating a UNHCR complaint about “mistreatment by UKBA staff and escorts on a charter flight to Baghdad” on 6 June.

The agency is also examining a further allegation made by the Iraqi Federation for Refugees (IFIR) about “mistreatment by UKBA escorts” of failed asylum seekers on a later mass deportation charter flight on 6 September.

The Foreign Office letter, sent to the European court on 29 October, explains: “The UKBA is also investigating allegations by two individuals, who were removed on [the] charter flight to Baghdad on September 6th, that they were tortured by the Iraqi authorities while detained in Baghdad.

“The two were subsequently returned to the UK on September 22nd because they were found by Iraqi authorities not to be Iraqis.”

One of the men is understood to be an Iranian. He has claimed he was beaten repeatedly.

Let’s not forget that these “charter flights” are run by private companies for profit. Abuses do occur.

Text and images ©2023 Antony Loewenstein. All rights reserved.

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