Page last updated at 06:03 GMT, Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Suspend Iraq refugee deportations, says Keith Vaz

An Iraqi grieves outside the Provincial Council building in Baghdad (25 October 2009)
Some refugees say it is too dangerous to return to Iraq

The Home Office has been urged to suspend forced repatriations of Iraqi refugees, after Iraq returned a planeload of deportees to the UK.

Keith Vaz MP, chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee, called on ministers to halt repatriation flights.

His call comes after Iraq officials turned back a flight on 15 October saying the refugees would be killed if they returned to Baghdad.

But the Home Office says not everyone who returns to Iraq is at risk.

Thirty-three out of 43 deportees were sent back to the UK by the Iraqi authorities in a flight that was the first repatriation to Baghdad since 2008.

'Explanation needed'

Mr Vaz told File on 4 the government had not treated the refugees humanely and his committee was concerned at claims that the deportees were not even told what part of Iraq they were being flown to.

He added: "What we want is an explanation into what happened we heard the oral comments of the minister when he appeared before our committee but we want to know what the rationale behind what they're doing, are they doing it again, what's the cost - did they look after the people before they went?

It sounds farcical that a government that is so involved in the way in which another country is operating - should be faced with what amounts to something of a humiliation
Keth Vaz

"We want an investigation into whether they told them where they were going to be returned to and what's happened to this controller of the airport that suddenly willy nilly made this decision to send them all back.

"It sounds farcical that a government that is so involved in the way in which another country is operating - should be faced with what amounts to something of a humiliation.

'Dangerous city'

"We have to have a complete review of the policy and until we have those answers it's not a good idea to start putting people on planes and sending them back in the future."

One Iraqi, who was on the October flight to Baghdad claimed the 43 people on the repatriation flight were not told where they were being taken to in Iraq.

He told File on 4, "In reception in Baghdad they said 'Why are you coming back?'"

The refugee added that Iraqi officials gave them this welcome, "They said it is not safe for you, you will be killed."

'Safe to return'

Two other men on the same flight told File on 4 Iraqi officials also made the same warning to them adding that the officials also complained about the lack of proper arrangements and documentation for the deportees.

Only 10 stayed in Baghdad the rest were returned to the UK.

The Home Office and UK Borders Agency refused to be interviewed for by File on 4 but the Home Office issued a statement saying, "The independent Asylum and Immigration Tribunal has concluded that levels of violence do not mean that all civilians are at risk from harm.

"We will continue to follow the guidance offered by the tribunal and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in determining return flights to all destinations.

"In the past three years more than 2,500 people have chosen to return to Iraq under the Assisted Voluntary Return Programme. We expect that to continue."

File on 4 is on BBC Radio 4 on Tuesday, 1 December, at 2000 GMT, repeated Sunday, 6 December, at 1700 GMT. You can also listen via the BBC iPlayer after broadcast or download the podcast.

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