The government insists that Iraqi Kurdistan is safe and is deporting hundreds of Kurdish and other asylum seekers to Iraq. By Amanda Sebestyen
Mohammad Hussain was one of the best-known and loved members of the Kurdish community in the north of England, 'a big man with a big heart'. Originally from Erbil, he had been a political campaigner all his life. He was forced to seek refuge in the UK in 2000 after threats from members of the governing Kurdish Democratic Party.
For the eight years Mohammad lived in Doncaster, struggling to gain refugee status, he was a fierce defender of refugee and human rights. An active member of the South Yorkshire Migration and Asylum Action Group and treasurer of the Doncaster Focus Group of refugee and migrant volunteers, in October 2007 he marched 40 miles from Sheffield to Lindholme detention centre to protest at conditions there.
This year, he got to see Lindholme from the inside, along with a string of other detention centres. The Home Office tried to deport him on 14 May; his solicitor and defence campaign managed to halt his deportation just 40 minutes before the plane was due to fly.
At Lindholme he was already in a lot of pain. But when Mohammad explained that he had a lump in his stomach and it was getting bigger and harder, he was given a mild painkiller, then sold a headache tablet. He died of cancer on 3 August, his bedside crowded with friends and well-wishers.
The government, insisting that Iraqi Kurdistan is safe to return to, has deported more than 500 Iraqi Kurdish asylum seekers over the past three years. Many have since died, and others still in the UK are desperate to avoid the same fate.
'Iraqi Kurdistan is neither an independent state, nor part of a stable state,' says Dashty Jamal of the International Federation of Iraqi Refugees (IFIR). 'Kurdish people are in limbo. Their lives hang on an ever-changing US agenda and two ruling parties that are authoritarian, undemocratic and corrupt. Persecution of campaigners and journalists by the authorities, combined with intimidation on a daily basis by terrorist groups and Islamic parties, is causing people to flood out of the country in fear of their lives.
'Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and even US State Department reports all show the violations of human rights in Iraqi Kurdistan.'
Yet the countries that support the occupation will not admit that Iraq still isn't safe, and so they go on deporting Kurds and others back there. IFIR, which works to help those held in detention centres in the UK and track them if they are sent back to Iraq, sees the human stories behind the geopolitics - the kind that never reach the newspapers.
Sadullah was 16 when he first arrived in the UK; he lived in Peterborough for four years. His asylum application was refused, and the Home Office told him that if he did not go home he would be forcibly deported. After four years living off the charity of friends, he gave up and went back. He was killed by a car bomb in Kirkuk in January 2007.
Sirwa Nouri was seven months pregnant when her husband was forcibly deported in April. She gave birth in June, but she has heard no word of her husband in all the months since his deportation.
Hussein Ali arrived in the UK six years ago. A fellow detainee, Muhammad, told IFIR that he wrote many letters to the Home Office while he was detained asking to remain in the UK but was still deported. He shot himself on 10 August.
Kadir Salih Abdullah arrived here in 2000, after being forced to leave a family of six children in Kurdistan. After five years fighting for asylum, not being able to work and being forced to rely on the support of friends, Kadir gave up the fight and signed 'voluntary return' papers in March 2005. Shortly after arriving in Kurdistan, he was kidnapped in front of his home by a militia linked to the governing PUK (Patriotic Union of Kurdistan) party. His daughter committed suicide, and his five remaining boys and family have contacted IFIR to report his disappearance and ask for help.
'The problems which have forced refugees and asylum seekers to leave their homes have been caused by the emergence of brutal, nationalistic and ethnocentric, political and religious wars,' says Dashty Jamal. 'All people who believe in human rights and have a desire to establish a free and equal society should challenge this barbarism, and help us in calling for an end to the criminalising and persecution of refugees and asylum seekers.'
IFIR is part of the Coalition Against Deportations to Iraq, and publishes a newsletter, Echoes, at www.csdiraq.com. Requests for more information, and donations, are welcome to IFIR, PO Box 1575, Ilford, IG1 3BZ, tel 020 8809 0633