Home Office tells refugees Iraq ‘safe for return’

Iraq is safe enough for refugees to return, the Home Office has said.

The government is requesting 1,400 failed Iraqi asylum seekers return to the country within the next three weeks or face the loss of state support or forced removal.

In a leaked letter seen by the Guardian, the Borders and Immigration Agency’s case resolution directorate wrote: “The government is committed to ensuring that unsuccessful asylum seekers do not remain in the United Kingdom indefinitely.

“We consider that voluntary returns are by far the more dignified way of making a return, but if individuals fail to leave, their removal may be enforced,” the memo said.

The 1,400 rejected asylum seekers, who all came to the UK before 2005, were allowed to remain in the country because until now the government did not consider travel to southern and central Iraq to be safe.

They were granted “hard case” support, including basic accommodation, three meals a day and vouchers for essential items. Their utility bills were also paid.

Signed by Claire Bennett, the deputy directorate of case resolution, and dated March 6th, the letter says travel to Iraq is now “both possible and reasonable”.

“Therefore these Iraqi nationals no longer qualify for support under this criterion”.

The letter states the Iraqis must demonstrate they are taking “all reasonable steps” to leave the UK or be in a position to do so.

It recommends they apply to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) for voluntary-assisted returns and reintegration programme.

This would require them to sign a waiver before returning to Iraq, stating “the IOM has no responsibility for me and my dependents once I return to Iraqi territory and I hereby release IOM from any liability in this respect”.

The Home Office said it was reasonable to ask the Iraqis to leave the UK, pointing out 600 Iraqis were forcibly removed or returned home voluntarily last year.

A spokesman said: “All asylum claims are assessed on their individual merits by the Border and Immigration Agency and where appropriate an independent judicial process and Iraqis genuinely in need of our protection, for example some former interpreters, will be granted asylum.

“We consider it reasonable however to expect those individuals who have been found by an independent judge and appeals process not to need protection to return home.

“We prefer people to leave voluntary but if necessary we will enforce their return.”