Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Amnesty damns UK government on asylum returns to Iraq, Iraqi security forces on targeting gays

By Paul Canning

In a new report on deaths of civilians in Iraq, Amnesty International has hit out at European governments which continue to return asylum seekers to that country and said that Iraqi security forces are 'encouraging' the targeting of gays for murder.

They have called on the international community to:
  • End all forcible returns to any part of Iraq; any return of rejected asylum-seekers should only take place when the security situation in the whole country has stabilised.
  • Provide financial, technical and in-kind assistance to refugee-hosting states in the region, UNHCR and other organisations providing assistance to refugees from Iraq.
  • Share the responsibility for resettling refugees from Iraq currently in the region, giving priority to the most vulnerable cases.
Forcibly returning people to Iraq – including to the most dangerous parts of the country – is in direct violation of guidelines set out by UNHCR, the UN refugee agency. A number of members of the EU do not return asylum seekers to Iraq, including France, but the UK has attempted several times to return Iraqis.

The agency says that improvement in the situation in Iraq is not yet sufficient enough to promote or encourage massive returns and it recommended that refugees already benefiting from international protection should retain their status. It singled out central governorates of Baghdad, Diyala, Kirkuk, Ninewa and Salah Al-Din as unsafe.

In October The Guardian reported that following a policy change to remove to Iraq's Central province "allegations of assault, racist taunts and operational chaos have emerged from Iraqi asylum seekers the Home Office attempted to deport to Baghdad."
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.
Kawa Ali Azad, who arrived in the UK in 2002, said:
"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."
Amnesty International spoke to several Iraqis who were forcibly returned by the Netherlands government on 30 March 2010. Among the 35 refugees was a 22-year-old Shi'a Turkoman man from Tal Afar, a city north of Mosul, where hundreds of civilians have been killed in sectarian or other politically motivated violence in recent years, and where the violence continues unabated. As of mid-April, he remained stranded in Baghdad. Denmark, Norway and Sweden have also removed Iraqi asylum seekers.

In February 2010 Iraqi Vice-President Tariq al-Hashemi urged European governments not to deport Iraqi asylum-seekers to Iraq until security and economic conditions had improved.

In its section on attacks on gay men, which reiterates much of the evidence from the Human Rights Watch report "They Want Us Exterminated" released last August, Amnesty says that "members of the security forces and possibly other authorities appear in some cases to have encouraged the targeting of people suspected of same-sex relationships, in blatant violation of the law and international human rights standards."

This is the first time either a government or a major Human Rights organisation has cited Iraqi government collusion, although it has been reported by Iraqis for some time. "Members of the gay community under threat of attack or murder," it says "cannot expect any assistance from the authorities, even when urgent protection is needed."

Ali Hili, the head of London-based Iraqi LGBT, who welcomed the report, told PinkNews.co.uk that:
"We continue to receive reports of killings and now have over 738 documented.

"Within the last fortnight two young gay men were taken by men in police uniforms and their graffitied bodies displayed in one of Baghdad's main squares.
Hili said that British government was "failing Iraqi lesbians and gays".
"We have and will continue to try to get people to safety but the British government must do more. It is wrong to tell Iraqi asylum seekers that it is safe to return if only they are 'discreet', which they have done." 

Amnesty International: Iraq: Civilians under fire

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