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Last Updated: Saturday, 19 November 2005, 13:46 GMT
First Iraqis set to be deported
Protester with sign saying Iraq not safe outside the Home Office
Protester outside the Home Office
Failed Iraqi asylum seekers are set to start being sent home this weekend, despite protests that it is not safe.

About 15 Iraqis are scheduled to be sent to Irbil in the Kurdish northern area this weekend, according to documents leaked to Channel 4 News.

The Home Office would not confirm the plan, but said Iraqi nationals had been detained with a view to being removed.

The Refugee Council urged the government to reconsider, saying Iraq remained "volatile".

The government decision follows advice from the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) that some returns to Kurdish regions of Iraq were now "feasible".

While the Home Office is insisting Iraq is safe for some returns, community groups are resisting the idea of forced removals, saying it is too dangerous.

Maeve Sherlock, chief executive of the Refugee Council, said: "Iraq is not safe. Irbil and the Northern Governorates are slightly safer than the rest of the country but the situation is very volatile.

"The security situation is very difficult. There are still kidnappings, there is still terrorist activity. We should not be sending people back until we know it is safe and we cannot say that we do."

Back home

The Home Office told the BBC News website that hundreds of Iraqis have returned home voluntarily since July 2003 and hundreds more are currently preparing to return.

Voluntary returns are preferable to enforced returns but if people don't leave voluntarily, we will enforce their return
Home Office
A spokesman said while there was "clearly a difficult situation in those areas most affected by insurgent activity", it did not accept that this applied to the country as a whole.

"Enforced returns will be taken forward on a case-by-case basis and we will only enforce return to areas assessed as sufficiently stable and where we are satisfied that the individual concerned will not be at risk."

He would not comment on the numbers of failed Iraqi asylum seekers being held in the UK.

The Home Office first announced its intention to resume enforced removals in February 2004.

An attempt earlier in the year to start removals sparked protests in a number of cities, with some groups threatening legal action to try and get the courts to declare any returns a breach of human rights.

"Voluntary returns are preferable to enforced returns but if people don't leave voluntarily, we will enforce their return - and Iraq is no different in that regard," the spokesman said.

The UNHCR's latest advisory on the return of Iraqis says that promoting voluntary returns to the three Northern Governorates, including Irbil, was feasible provided returnees had "family and community links that can ensure their access to protection, housing and other basic services".

But "no persons should be returned forcibly" unless it could be established that they had those links, it added.

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