Source: The Guardian
By Owen Bowcott
Allegations of assault, racist taunts and operational chaos have emerged from Iraqi asylum seekers the Home Office attempted to deport to Baghdad.
Three of the men put on the UK Border Agency's (Ukba) first flight to the Iraqi capital last week have told the Guardian they were beaten by British security guards and that no Arabic translator accompanied them.
The commander of Baghdad airport was reportedly so infuriated by the unexpected arrival of the chartered plane on Thursday that he threatened to set fire to the aircraft if it did not leave within two hours. Details of the operation – involving as many as 100 private guards and about 40 failed Iraqi asylum seekers – suggest the secret expulsions degenerated into a humiliating retreat.
However, the Ukba and the security company involved in the deportations have denied allegations of mistreatment and said they had not received any complaints.
News of the planned removals leaked out last Monday but the Home Office would not confirm the departure until four days later. The United Nations high commissioner for refugees has condemned the decision to return Iraqis to the central provinces of the country because of the risk of suicide bombings, kidnappings and sectarian violence. Until the policy switch last week the UK had only repatriated failed Iraqi asylum seekers to the Kurdish region on the grounds that north-eastern Iraq was relatively safe. Thousands of Iraqis are facing deportation from Britain but the Iraqi government appears to be hardening its line against enforced returns.
Kawa Ali Azad, 33, is back in Colnbrook immigration detention centre near Heathrow after an enforced 6,000-mile round flight and a detour to Italy. Speaking by telephone to the Guardian, he said he had been put on a bus and driven to Stansted airport. "It was like a kidnapping. We had no food for 12 hours. We were kept out of sight at the airport then put on an Italian charter flight. When we arrived in Baghdad, there was an Iraqi officer with sunglasses and eagle decorations on his shoulders. [The British immigration official] started to talk to him but his English was not good so I went to help translate. The British officials didn't have an Arabic translator.
"[The airport commander] said he had received a message from his boss there was an Italian flight but was never told it was transporting deported Iraqis – otherwise he would not have let it land.
"He said to the immigration official he had two hours to refuel the plane and leave or he would take further action. He would not take responsibility for the Iraqis because of the danger of kidnapping and bombs. The immigration officer asked what 'further action' meant and he said would burn the plane with all the people on board if it didn't leave. "
When most of the Iraqis were put back on the plane – only 10 were let into Baghdad – relations with the security guards, who had remained on the plane, deteriorated. "The security guards were white English. I was called all sorts of words … I started crying and said I hadn't done anything," said Azad, who arrived in the UK in 2002.
"They slapped me on the mouth and handcuffed me. I still have the bruise. I was also spat at. When the plane stopped in Italy, we had to swap aircraft. I heard them talking to Italian security and they said we were a group of terrorists being transported. They put a jacket over my head and I received kicks."
The second plane eventually carried them back to Stansted.
The security firm, G4S, said it had not received any complaints about the behaviour of its staff. "We take all allegations of this kind against staff most seriously," the firm said. "If we have any complaints coming through, we will look at them carefully and they will be investigated. There are procedures within the immigration detention centres for detainees to register complaints."
Lin Homer, chief executive of the Ukba, said: "Ukba ensures that every person that we have to deport is treated with dignity and respect. A Ukba official was on board the flight in order to monitor how the escorts treated the returnees and have established that they behaved in a professional manner."