[JURIST] UK Home Secretary John Reid [official profile] has promised to go ahead with Tuesday's planned deportations of 32 Iraqis who sought asylum in the UK, saying that only a court injunction will prevent the plane carrying the Iraqis from leaving and that his office "may decide not to defer removal" despite last-minute applications for judicial review. This is believed to be the first instance in which a British government minister has insisted that asylum seekers be deported while legal challenges to their deportations still remain. In a letter to the judge presiding over appeals while the UK High Court is on break for the summer, Reid wrote that "it is essential that these removals are not disrupted or delayed by large numbers of last-minute claims for permission to seek judicial review," referencing concerns over the "complexities, practicalities and costs" in arranging special charter flights to transport the asylum seekers back to Iraq.
A High Court judge warned last year that forcible returns of failed asylum seekers to Iraq could be unlawful [JURIST report] and rights groups have previously said that UK plans to deport Iraqi asylum seekers would violate international human rights and refugee law [Amnesty press release]. The UK Foreign Office [official website] has warned British citizens against traveling to Iraq [FCO notice] for all but essential purposes due to the unstable security situation, but Home Office officials have said that security concerns are not applicable across all of Iraq. Britain's Refugee Council [advocacy website] said Tuesday that it "isn't possible under these circumstances to guarantee the safety of anyone returned" to Iraq and called for the government to grant the asylum seekers temporary status [press release] until it is safe to return to Iraq. The Guardian has more.
The deportation of asylum seekers has been a controversial issue in Britain recently; in May, UK Attorney General Lord Goldsmith [official profile] said that the British government will ask the European Court of Human Rights to review a long-standing ban [JURIST report] against EU countries deporting individuals to countries where they would be at risk of torture or death, a practice known in international law by the French term refoulement [backgrounder]. Goldsmith's announcement followed a High Court ruling [JURIST document] to grant asylum to nine Afghans who had hijacked a plane to a UK airport but who could not be safely returned. That ruling was upheld on appeal [JURIST report] last month. Also last month, the UK Asylum and Immigration Tribunal [official website] overturned a previous decision [JURIST report] putting a stop to deportations of Zimbabwean asylum seekers because they faced a "real risk of serious harm" if deported. The AIT allowed deportations to Zimbabwe to resume [JURIST report] in August.