LISA MULLINS: I'm Lisa Mullins and this is The World. 31 Iraqi nationals returned to their country this morning. They went back on a flight from Britain. But none of them wanted to go. The plane was chartered by the UK Border Agency, that's Britain's immigration office. The flight was the latest in a growing number of deportations of Iraqis who failed to get asylum. As The World's Laura Lynch reports from London, similar flights are happening in other western European nations.
LAURA LYNCH: This morning's flight, shrouded in secrecy, was only confirmed by immigration officials late this afternoon. ï¿½31 Iraqi nationals without a right to remain in the UK were successfully returned to Baghdad this morning,ï¿½ the statement says. It continues, "We only ever return those who both the UK Border Agency and the courts are satisfied do not need our protection and refuse to leave voluntarily." And so they were forced to go back. The United Nations Refugee agency, or UNHCR, has been watching a growing number of forced deportations across Western Europe in the past few months. Mats Nyberg works for the UNHCR in Britain. He says in principle, there isn't a problem with returning failed asylum seekers to some parts of Iraq.
MATS NYBERG: However, the situation in the five central governorates of Iraq is still so dangerous that failed asylum seekers should not be returned to that specific area.
LYNCH: Those dangerous regions include Baghdad. Just last week, the UNHCR's Melissa Fleming released the results of a series of interviews with more than 2,000 Iraqis who have returned to the capital, many voluntarily.
MELISSA FLEMING: During these interviews our staff were informed by these returnees of numerous instances of explosions, harassment, military operations and kidnapping occurring in their areas of return.
LYNCH: Sweden, Norway and the Netherlands have also deported Iraqi failed asylum seekers. The flights have become so contentious, Kurdish authorities have banned them from landing at the regional airport in Irbil. So Kurds like Sherwan Abdullah are being taken to Baghdad. Abdullah was forced to go back in June after living in Britain for eight years. He claims he and others on the flight were treated like criminals, put in handcuffs.
SHERWAN ABDULLAH: They put handcuffs on them and they take themï¿½
LYNCH: Now back in northern Iraq, Abdullah says life is difficult. He says he's living like a dog.
ABDULLAH: My life is like a dogs because in our country, dog is nothing.
LYNCH: Ahmed Hamid worries he'll meet the same fate. He's still here, in the UK. But he's in an immigration detention center near Heathrow airport. Hamid has already been booked on two deportation flights, but as long as his court battle to stay continues, he cannot be sent back. When asked whether he agrees with British authorities that Iraq is safe, he answers with a question of his own.
AHMED HAMID: Let me ask you, do you think Baghdad is safe place? I'm asking any other people who is going to accept to send to Baghdad?
LYNCH: The UNHCR has been lobbying Britain and other countries to stop the deportations, but so far, it's had no success. The agency's Melissa Fleming has one more statistic suggesting the deportation policy may not work.
FLEMING: The survey also found that 34% said they were uncertain whether they would stay permanently in Iraq and would consider seeking asylum in neighboring countries once again if conditions did not improve.
LYNCH: Sherwan Abdullah, who was forced to leave Britain in June, has already made up his mind. He plans to leave Iraq again, this time for Germany. For The World, I'm Laura Lynch in London.