The first two weeks of March saw dozens of shootings, roadside bombs, car bombs and discoveries of mass graves in Iraq. Five years into the war, the country remains torn apart by sectarian violence, which marks its toll not only in bodies but also in destroyed basic infrastructure, power and supplies shortages and a grave lack of hospital beds. Yet on March 13 it was revealed that the Home Office now considers Iraq ‘safe’, and will therefore give 1,400 Iraqi asylum seekers an ultimatum – go back, or stay in Britain but with no benefits and no home. They have three weeks to make up their minds.
The claim that Iraq is safe is highly troubling, and displays the government’s complete lack of concern for the people it expels from the UK. As if to underline the stupidity of their assertion, the government will also ask them to sign a waiver form which says that the Home Office will take no responsibility for what happens to them or their families once they return to Iraq.
Of course, as everyone knows, millions of Iraqis have been forced to flee from their homes by the invasion and civil war, either to find solace in another community in Iraq among their co-religionists, or to seek refuge in neighbouring Jordan or Syria. The UN estimates that 2.2 million people have escaped from Iraq since 2003 –few of these millions, so desperate as to have to leave their country, would corroborate the government’s claim that Iraq is safe.
This is not the first time the British government has deported people to Iraq, although previous flights carrying asylum seekers have headed for the Kurdish north - which except the recent Turkish invasion has been relatively stable – rather than southern Iraq itself. We also strongly condemned those removals, since they are nothing other than part of the Home Office’s racist demonisation of immigrants and their constant effort to pander to far-right prejudices against people of Middle Eastern background, no matter how worthy their asylum case.
Indeed, even the 1,400 Iraqi asylum seekers concerned had in 2005 been refused the right to stay in Britain and were only spared deportation because it was impossible to find a plausibly safe route back. They were therefore only entitled to the meagre “section four” state support which includes basic “no-choice” accommodation, three meals a day, vouchers for essential items and utility bills.
No matter whether the government needs to pretend for its own reasons that Iraq is safe and free, we are unconditionally for the right for anyone who so pleases to make the UK their home. We furthermore demand that all immigrants have the same welfare rights as anyone else who lives in this country, and are absolutely opposed to racist two-tier benefits system which keeps people in poverty just because they were born abroad.