Tuesday, June 08, 2010

You get what you vote for





March 7, Iraq concluded Parliamentary elections. CNN reports Iraqi President Jalal Talabani stated today that the Parliament will hold its first meeting June 14th -- which would be three months and seven days after the election. AFP adds, "Once parliament is opened, Iraq's constitution states that MPs must first select a speaker for the Council of Representatives, and then choose a new president. The president will then call on the leader of the biggest parliamentary bloc to form a government, who will be given 30 days to do so."

Meanwhile the Iraq War created the largest refugee crisis in the world with over 4 million internal and external refugees. External refugees left Iraq due to the violence -- often violence that claimed the life of one of their family members, often due to threats of death if they didn't leave. As a group, they have no desire to return. There is nothing to go back to for many (their abandoned homes were long since occupied) and the violence, which has never ceased, could return to the 2005, 2006 and 2007 levels (popularly known as the "civil war") were refugees -- especially Sunni ones -- to return in large numbers. It is not safe for returns. Last Thursday's snapshot included the following: Meanwhile in England, Owen Bowcott (Guardian) reports on what would be England's second known deportation of Iraqis -- forcible deportation. The last one, you may remember, resulted in a British plane landing in Iraq and Iraqi guards refusing to allow everyone to disembark so the plane returned to England. Bowcott notes that approximately 70 Iraqis will be forcibly deported Wednesday, June 9th: "The operation, deporting them via the central provinces of Iraq, is in direct contravention of United Nations guidelines. The UN high commissioner for refugees opposes forced returns to the area because of continuing suicide bombings and violence. The UN guidance was explicitly restated last autumn after the UK attempted to deport 44 men to Baghdad. That abortive operation resulted in Iraqi airport officials refusing to admit all but 10 of the men. The rest were told to reboard the plane and flown back to the UK." That deportation is thought to take place tomorrow. Today Amnesty International issued the following: Reacting to reports that a charter flight carrying Iraqi nationals is scheduled to leave the UK for Baghdad via Halmstad, Sweden in the early hours of 9 June, Amnesty International stressed that removals to Baghdad are not safe and should not take place. Amnesty International opposes any forcible returns to Iraq in the current situation of ongoing insecurity and instability. Amnesty International believes that Iraqis from the five provinces of Iraq considered to be particularly dangerous, namely Ninewa (Mosul), Kirkuk, Diyala, Salah al-Din and Baghdad, should be granted refugee status or a form of subsidiary protection, and that in the case of asylum-seekers from other provinces of Iraq an individual assessment should be made to assess whether they also qualify for refugee or subsidiary protection. Amnesty International UK refugee programme director Jan Shaw said: "It's unfathomable that the UK can consider Baghdad a safe place to return people. Our report in April documented scores of civilian killings, some of whom were tortured and their bodies mutilated before they were dumped in the street. Bombings continue to take scores of lives. "As far as we are concerned, removing someone to Iraq should only take place when the security situation in the whole country has stabilised. "Until the situation improves and it is safe to return to Iraq, these people should be offered some form of protection in the UK." Despite the ongoing violence in Iraq, several European governments have forcibly returned rejected Iraqi asylum-seekers to Iraq. In 2009, the authorities in Denmark, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and the UK forcibly returned Iraqis to unsafe parts of Iraq, such as central Iraq, in breach of UNHCR guidelines. On 15 October 2009 UK authorities forcibly deported 44 rejected Iraqi asylum-seekers to Baghdad; the Iraqi authorities allowed only ten of them to enter and the remainder were flown back to the UK. The Norwegian authorities forcibly returned 30 Iraqis to Baghdad in December 2009 and 13 in January 2010. For its report "Iraq: Civilians under fire" published in April 2010, 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. Reuters notes that England's not the only country planning a forced deportation of Iraqi refugees this week -- Norway, Sweden and the Netherlands are also conspiring -- and that UN High Commissioner for Refugees spokesperson Melissa Fleming states they are opposed to the deportations and, "Despite these people having had their applications for asylum rejected, we fear for their futures and their own physical protection if they were to be returned." UNHCR has repeatedly noted that it is not safe for governments to force returns. In a Geneva briefing today, Melissa Fleming explained:
UNHCR understands that four governments -- the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and the UK -- are arranging an enforced removal of Iraqi citizens to Baghdad, Iraq later this week. We have not received confirmed information of the number and profile of those individuals and whether some have requested protection.Our position and advice to governments is that Iraqi asylum applicants originating from Iraq's governorates of Baghdad, Diyala, Ninewa and Salah-al-Din, as well as from Kirkuk province, should continue to benefit from international protection in the form of refugee status under the 1951 Refugee Convention or another form of protection depending on the circumstances of the case. Our position reflects the volatile security situation and the still high level of prevailing violence, security incidents, and human rights violations taking place in these parts of Iraq. UNHCR considers that serious -- including indiscriminate -- threats to life, physical integrity or freedom resulting from violence or events seriously disturbing public order are valid reasons for international protection. UNHCR appreciates that the international protection needs of Iraqis are assessed by asylum authorities in Europe and elsewhere on an individual basis. We urge those authorities to ensure that the situation in Iraq as a whole, including the important level of lawlessness, is factored into their assessments. While some have proposed that returned Iraqis could reside in other parts of the country from where they originate, UNHCR's position is that no internal flight alternative exists in Iraq because of the on-going levels of violence in Baghdad, Diyala, Kirkuk, Ninewa and Salah Al-Din, and in view of access and residency restrictions in various governorates as well as the hardship faced by returnees in ensuring even survival in areas of relocation. The continued insurgency in Iraq and on-going violence there has led to large scale internal and external displacement of the Iraqi population, with most refugees living in Syria and Jordan. UNHCR is concerned about the signal that forced returns from Europe could give to other host countries, particularly those neighbouring Iraq.

Saturday, Iraqi LGBT issued a statement decrying the deportations:London, 4 June 2010 - The Iraqi LGBT group has today expressed its 'deep concern' about reports that the British Home Office is planning to return 100 Iraqi refugees to Baghdad Wednesday 9 June - despite a recent UK report saying this was not safe. "This group will certainly contain deeply closeted gay people and they will be at extreme risk of torture and murder in Baghdad," said Group leader Ali Hili. Iraqi LGBT say that the Iraqi government provide no security for gays - infact the opposite as its members have reported the involvement of both police and Interior Ministry forces in handing over gay people to militias with either their tortured bodies being subsequently discovered or them disappearing. The group has just released new testimony about Iraqi government complicity on YouTube, see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6Ts3PedvPrs Said Hili, "the Western media is not reporting the level of violence continuing in Baghdad. Bombings and assassinations continue to happen almost daily - this is why the United Nations said it is unsafe to remove refugees to that city. The lack of reporting means that the Home Office think they can get away with this inhuman action." Amnesty International said in April that there was evidence that members of the security forces and other authorities were encouraging the targeting of people suspected to be gay. The report added that killers of gay men could find protection under the law, as it offers lenient sentences for those committing crimes with an "honourable motive". "We condemn the proposed removals by the British government and the Iraqi government's complicity. Many of these people are opponents of the regime and if returned will end up being killed." It has been reported by the International Federation of Iraqi Refugees (IFIR) that the 100 refugees have been screened by UK Border Agency 'ambassadors' pretending to be Iraqi embassy representatives at a detention centre. Refugees have reported being threatened by those 'interviewing' them. "We are very familiar with such threats," said Ali. "I and other members of our group in exile have faced this, as have our family members. Many of our members have been murdered in Iraq and we have had safe houses invaded and people massacred. If these people are removed many of them will also be murdered." Iraqi LGBT has cataloged 738 murders in the past five years. The group has backed the call by the IFIR for the British government to end what IFIR calls "this inhuman policy" of refugee removals to Iraq. Notes for editors 1. Iraqi LGBT is a human rights organisation with members inside Iraq and in exile. It provides safe houses for gays, lesbians and transgender people and has helped people escape into exile. 2. The International Federation of Iraqi Refugees campaigns for the rights of Iraqi refugees and against forcible deportations and detention. The Coalition to Stop Deportations to Iraq campaigns against the forcible deportation and detention of Iraqi refugees. 3. The flight will be the first to Iraq since the 14th October, when ten people were deported to Baghdad and the thirty-three others on the plane were sent back by the Iraqi authorities. See www.csdiraq.com for more information 4. At least four million Iraqis have been forced to flee either to another part of Iraq or abroad since the war began in 2003 5. According to Home Office figures, 632 people were forcibly deported to the KRG region in the north between 2005 and 2008. The International Federation of Iraqi Refugees estimates that the figure, with the monthly charter flights deporting 50 people at a time since the beginning of 2009, currently stands at approximately 900. 6. Iraqi LGBT has worked with and supported the work of IFIR for several years.
International Federation of Iraqi Refugees Iraqi refugees given tickets for deportation flight to Baghdad for Wednesday 9th June
pinknews.co.uk: UK 'breaching UN rules' on returning gay asylum seekers
Guardian: Failed Iraq asylum seekers screened for forced deportation

Alan Travis and Owen Bowcott (Guardian) report that attorneys with the UK's Treasury Solicitor's Department are calling on judges not to offer any stays or delays to the planned deportations.

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