The first enforced removals of failed Iraqi asylum-seekers to their homeland will take place this weekend, the Home Office has said.
The planned move sparked anger last night among refugee groups who warned the lives of those being expelled could be put at risk. Ministers faced fury, and demonstrations around the country, when it began rounding up Iraqis with a view to their expulsion over the summer. Plans to remove them were put on hold at the time in the face of a legal challenge.
However, fresh detentions of Iraqis are understood to have taken place in recent days in Newcastle, Liverpool and Suffolk and, according to leaked documents obtained by Channel 4 News, up to 15 Kurds could be returned on Sunday.
Channel 4 quoted the Home Office document as saying: "Despite reservations about the general situation, UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) conclude that the forcible returns to the three Northern Governates (Kurdistan) of those who originate from there could be feasible".
It goes on: "Should the failed asylum-seeker not be permitted to leave the UK voluntarily, their removal will be enforced.
A Home Office document says: "Those who are to be removed will be served notice of our intentions and they are entitled to seek legal advice about their circumstances. Removal is scheduled to 20 November."
It points to advice from the UNCHR which has said forcible returns to northern Iraq could be feasible.
Peter Kessler, the UNHCR spokesman in London, said: "The security situation in Iraq remains highly unstable although the three northern governorates appear to have experienced fewer security incidents than other parts of the country."
He said the Government was within its rights to reject people whose asylum claims were refused but said any returns could set a very dangerous precedent and prompt other countries to send home large numbers of Iraqis.
More than 20,000 Iraqis have applied for asylum in Britain during the past three years. The vast majority have had their applications rejected
Maeve Sherlock, Chief Executive of the Refugee Council said: "We are appalled by this development. All anyone needs to do is watch the news to see just how dangerous Iraq is at the moment."