Clarke criticised for bid to repatriate Iraqi Kurds seeking asylum

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Campaigners fear that Iraqi Kurds being held in detention centres will be flown back to their homeland as early as Sunday after being denied asylum in Britain. Refugee groups believe around 20 asylum- seekers may be returned to Kurdish northern Iraq by military plane, despite fears about their safety.

The Home Office yesterday refused to comment on the case and would not say how many people were involved.

Groups have protested against the plans in Cardiff, Plymouth, Sheffield and Manchester. Demonstrators in London are due to make their case outside the Home Office today while further demonstrations are planned for this weekend.

Yesterday the Refugee Council expressed alarm at the prospect of failed asylum-seekers being returned to Iraq, arguing that their safety could not be guaranteed in the turbulent former dictatorship.

The Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI) also criticised the move after warnings from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees Peter Kessler that no part of Iraq can be considered safe for rejected asylum-seekers.

Earlier this month Mr Kessler "strongly advised" countries not to return failed asylum-seekers to Iraq, warning that there were still regular reports of kidnappings and other security problems in the north of the country.

Some Iraqi Kurds have returned to their homeland voluntarily.

But a spokeswoman for the Refugee Council said it was unacceptable at present to force people to return against their will. "As far as we know the flight is going on 28 August but we don't know how many people will be on the flight.

"We are tremendously concerned about the fact that this is happening. We are deeply, deeply worried about it. It is obviously not the right time to start removals.

"It is one thing for people to return voluntarily and accept the risk. But there seems to be no urgent reason to remove people now. Iraq is in a state of turmoil."

Rhian Beynon, a spokeswoman for the JCWI, added: "The UNHCR has said no. We say no as well. Given that asylum applications are falling and claims are down there does not seem to be a reason why we can't afford to host a few more people at the moment.

"We can't see why anyone would want to go back there at the moment. We think the Home Secretary should be compassionate in this case."