Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Government Solicitors Tell High Court To Facilitate Baghdad Deportations

Stop Deportations Network Press Release:

A letter from the government solicitors has asked High Court judges to facilitate a mass deportation flight to Baghdad, scheduled for Wednesday, by not considering last-minute Judicial Review applications by detainees due for deportation. [1]

The letter by Andrea McMahon of the Treasury Solicitor's Department (TSol), which providers legal services to over 180 government departments and agencies, addressed to the Administrative Court Office at the High Court, states that, "Because of the complexities, practicalities and costs involved in arranging charters flights [sic] it is essential that these removals are not disrupted or delayed by large numbers of last minute claims for permission to seek judicial review." [2]

"To ensure the viability of this latest operation to Iraq," the letter continues, "the Home Office may decide not to defer removal simply on receipt of a last minute threat or application to seek judicial review in cases where removal directions have been set and served at least 5 working days before departure."

The flight is scheduled to depart the UK, from an undisclosed airport, at 5:15am on Wednesday, 9th June. It is expected to carry up to 10 Iraqi nationals from the UK, who are currently being held at different immigration detention centres, mainly in Colnbrook, near Heathrow airport. More deportees will then be picked up at Halmstad, Sweden, before the flight continues to Baghdad. The joint 'operation' is being coordinated by the EU border agency, Frontex, under the new Joint European Union Charter Flights Initiative.

The letter claims that a memorandum of understanding with the Iraqi government had been signed in 2005 but that, "due to concerns regarding the security of those on board the aircraft," the UK did not previously enforce forcible returns beyond the Kurdistan Regional Government-controlled region in the northern part of the country. "These concerns," the letter continues, "are no longer an issue for our charter flight operations to Iraq."

The document then provides a detailed legal discussion of whether the indiscriminate violence in Iraq is of a high-enough level that deportees' lives would be at risk by merely being in the country.

The United Nations refugee commission (UNHCR) has repeatedly expressed its concern that some European states have begun forcibly returning Iraqi refugees despite the "serious human rights violations and continuing security incidents throughout Iraq, most predominantly in the central governorates." Asylum seekers from these areas, the international body advises, "should be considered to be in need of international protection." [3] The UK is one of a few European countries, beside Sweden and Denmark, that have forcibly deported people to central Iraq in recent months against the advice of the UNHCR and other international organisations.

The TSol letter also claims that the UK government "successfully conducted its first charter flight to Baghdad on 15 October 2009." The flight was, in fact, a huge embarrassment to the UK government after Iraqi army officers confronted UK immigration officials at the Baghdad airport and forced them to fly back to London with 33 of the 44 deportees. [4]

Although the letter does not mention this, it does assure the High Court that those who are to be returned on this flight "have been cleared in advance with the authorities in Baghdad." Detainees in Colnbrook, near Heathrow, and Brook House, near Gatwick, have reportedly been interviewed over the last few days by Iraqi officials, who told detainees they were from the Iraqi embassy. The embassy, however, denies any knowledge of the detention interviews.

Last year, following the not-so-successful charter flight to Baghdad, an Iraqi government spokesman said his government was against the UK policy of forcing people back to the country. According to the International Federation of Iraqi Refugees, some of the deportees are of Kurdish origin and do not even speak Arabic.

In a section explaining the "rationale" behind using charters for mass deportations, the TSol letter states that "charter flights allow [the] UKBA to effect volume returns to countries where asylum intake is high or where there are a significant number of foreign national prisoners awaiting return. This also makes charter flights a cost effective option."

The letter concludes with a kind request to High Court judges to effectively not do their job: "It is respectfully requested that Duty Judges take the above information into account when considering any applications made for injunctions to prevent the removal of those due to be returned on the flight on 9 June."

A spokesperson for the Stop Deportation network, which campaigns against mass deportation flights, said: "We have been trying to highlight, and challenge, the unlawfulness of these 'special arrangements' that deportation charter flights are subject to. It is incredible that the government would go as far as telling judges not to do their job."


For further information and questions, please contact: stopdeportation(at)riseup.net

Notes for editors:

[1] A copy of the letter can be found at: http://stopdeportation.net/sites/default/files/letter_to_HC_re_Baghdad_flight.pdf

[2] Chapter 60 of the UK Border Agency's Enforcement Instructions and Guidance, which explains the notice that must be provided of any removal and how the UKBA should respond to any challenge to this, states that charter flights "may be subject to different arrangements where it is considered appropriate because of the complexities, practicalities and costs of arranging an operation." Deportees are usually notified in their Removal Directions letter that "removal will not necessarily be deferred in the event that a Judicial Review is lodged". If proceedings are lodged or JR is threatened by, or on behalf of, a person who is due to be removed on a charter flight, the case must be referred to the Operational Support & Certification Unit immediately. OSCU will then consider whether it is appropriate to proceed with the removal in order to "guarantee the viability of the operation." If the OSCU decides not to defer removal, the claimant or their representatives must be informed of this decision and the reasons for it in writing and must be told that removal will proceed unless an injunction is obtained - which is often difficult due to lack of time and access to adequate legal representation.

[3] See: http://www.unhcr.org/4ae1998e9.html.

[4] See: http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2009/oct/16/unhcr-uk-baghdad-deportations, for example.

[5] For more information on Stop Deportation, see http://stopdeportation.net.

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