'They gave me $100 and told me to fend for myself in Baghdad'
Asylum-seeker deported from UK explains why he fears for his life
Cahal Milmo is the chief reporter of The Independent and has been with the paper since 2000. He was born in London and previously worked at the Press Association news agency. He has reported on assignment at home and abroad, including Rwanda, Sudan and Burkina Faso, the phone hacking scandal and the London Olympics. In his spare time he is a keen runner and cyclist, and keeps an allotment.
Monday 19 October 2009
Abu Yousif is back home, back to Baghdad, where his brother was murdered and where, he believes, the same fate awaits him in the hands of the vengeful killers.
Every day is spent living in fear that the gunmen will hunt him down. "They have not gone away from here. I am afraid of what could happen. I only sleep a little, and then I wake up and think, is this going to be my last day, wondering what is going to happen to my family," he says. "This is still a very dangerous place. People in England must realise that."
Mr Yousif, a 39-year-old engineer, was one of 40 Iraqis thrown out of Britain, where they had sought asylum, because the Home Office decided that their homeland was now a safe place to live. It was the first time that a return to Baghdad had been attempted since the start of the Iraq war in 2003.
To the huge embarrassment of the British Government, 30 of the deportees were refused entry by the Iraqi officials and sent back. Ten others were taken off the plane with UK officials who promised that the local embassy would look after them. What actually happened, says Mr Yousif, was that they were given $100 each and told to fend for themselves.
Human rights groups, churches and refugee charities have condemned the British authorities for insisting on the deportation to a place visited daily by murderous attacks. A spokesman for Amnesty International said: "Given the reports of killings, bombings and other human rights abuses that continue to come out of Baghdad, it is hard to comprehend that the UK Government considers it a safe place to return people."
Mr Yousif has now been back in Baghdad for three days, most of which, he says, have been spent in a room at the house of a friend.
"I cannot go back to live at home because I am told that is being watched," he told The Independent yesterday. "I do not even like leaving the room at my friend's home because I am always nervous. I think that I will be at risk from these same people who killed my brother. I do not know how long I can stay with my friend – he will be at risk as well. I keep a bag packed in case I have to move suddenly."
Mr Yousif said that each of the detainees had two guards alongside them during the flight to Iraq. The atmosphere was fraught, with many of those being sent back in obvious distress.
Mr Yousif and the others also received $45 each from immigration officials who said there was nothing more they could do. "I was wandering around, I felt lost. Then I got a taxi to my friend's place. Luckily he and his family were there and they took me in. The money is running out fast, and I am not sure how I will support myself."
Mr Yousif met The Independent at a public location in central Baghdad, which he considered to be comparatively safe. His voice was strained as he described how his life had unravelled, his eyes darting around, trying to spot signs of danger. He had been convinced several times during the journey to the meeting that he was being followed.
Mr Yousif has not seen his wife and two children or his parents for more than three years. They went into hiding after the death of his brother, Sabah, and it is safer for them, he felt, not to be with him.
The chain of violence which led to the murder of Sabah and Mr Yousif fleeing Iraq began when he started working for an international company, Global, engaged in security work for the US military and Iraqi ministries.
"I have a degree from the technical university here, but this was 2004 and it was very, very difficult to get jobs. Working for foreigners made you a target, but I needed the money to feed my family," he said. "I worked for them for two years, and then the terrorists must have found out about my job. I was sent an envelope with a bullet in it and a warning that I would be killed unless I stopped working for the company.
"I did not want to put my family in danger, my wife was very afraid, and I decided to leave the job. My brother went to the offices to pick up some documents for me and after he left he was murdered. They shot him in the head and then they disfigured the body with knives. They had mistaken him for me.
"My parents blamed me for what had happened, for working for a foreign company, and I do not think even now they have forgiven me."
Mr Yousif was advised by friends to leave the country. He paid $8,000 to a Kurdish group who took him through northern Iraq, Turkey and then across Europe in a truck to Dover. He walked into a police station in April 2006, saying he was an asylum-seeker. He was held in a detention centre in Cambridge while his application was processed. He appeared before a tribunal, where his case was rejected.
"I was told that Iraq was now a free country and I would be sent back because it was safe. The same week there were bombs in Baghdad with a lot of people blown up."
Mr Yousif was put on notice of deportation but given temporary leave to remain. He stayed with an Iraqi family for almost three-and-a-half years in Dover. At the end of last month he was told to report to a detention centre. He was held there for two weeks, then put on the flight to Baghdad.
"When I got to England, I thought I was safe at last. I thought I would be able to take my family over there and we could start a life away from all the trouble and the violence.
"All the British people I had met in Baghdad said it was a good place, and a fair place, and I believed them."
He shakes his head. "Now I do not know what will happen to me. I have lost everything, I feel there is just darkness ahead of me."
The asylum-seeker's name was changed.
Week of violence: Attacks wreak havoc in Iraq
At least seven people are killed after gold merchants are robbed in Shula district, Baghdad. The gunmen use grenades to make their escape. Three bombs explode in Karbala, one of the holiest cities for Shia Muslims, killing at least three.
An attack in Buhriz, north of Baghdad, kills the town's mayor and injures his two sons.
A suicide bomber kills eight in Buhriz, according to police, in an attack which they say is targeted at the leader of a Sunni paramilitary group backed by the US.
An Iraqi soldier is killed by a roadside bomb in an attack in Baghdad's Adhamiya district. Two soldiers and a civilian are also wounded.
A man opens fire in a mosque in Tal Afar, northern Iraq, before blowing himself up: at least 15 die. An Iraqi soldier is killed by a suicide car bomber at a checkpoint west of Mosul.
A bridge near Ramadi on a road used by US forces is destroyed by a suicide bomber who blows up a truck loaded with dynamite. A roadside bomb outside Fallujah kills four Iraqi soldiers.
Two killed in Haswa by a roadside bomb. Sources: AP; Reuters
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