Imagine this choice: being forcibly deported to your home country where you face interrogation, possibly torture, perhaps even execution. Or living on the run in a foreign country without any income or accommodation, risking arrest at any time. This is the choice facing many Iraqi Kurds in Burngreave.
During November 2005 there were at least 165 evictions of Iraqi Kurds from their homes in Sheffield, many in Burngreave and Firth Park. Acting for the Home Office and the National Asylum Support Service (NASS), Angel Housing made 100 people homeless and Refugee Care threw 65 people out into the cold. The victims were mainly Kurds who had refused to sign a recent Home Office ultimatum: agree to return voluntarily to ‘safe’ Iraq or “You will be required to leave your accommodation and will not be entitled to any other form of support”. Some Iraqi Kurds who had, in desperation, agreed to return to Iraq voluntarily were also evicted.
The Home Office continues to claim that northern Iraq is safe for Iraqi Kurds to return to. However, the Foreign Office cites suicide bombings and ‘recent insurgent activity’ to advise against ‘all but essential’ travel to northern Iraq. Neither the United Nations nor any European government agrees with the UK Home Office.
The first forced deportations – of fifteen people – to northern Iraq were on 19th November 2005. Karwan, an Iraqi Kurd from Bolton, recently responded to a Home Office request that he attend an interview. At the ‘interview’ Karwan was arrested, driven to an airport, and deported. Three other detainees were arrested and beaten by Iraqi security forces on their arrival in Iraq. Since I began to write this article I have learned that another man deported on this plane killed himself within two days of his arrival in ‘safe’ Iraq.
Asylum seekers who are waiting to find out if they have the right to stay in the UK are not allowed to work. Many have to work illegally to survive. I was told about Jalal (not his real name) who works at a city centre takeaway, six days a week for £100.
Asylum seekers’ legal status, regarding the right to work, makes them open to exploitation. Indeed it has been suggested that this unprotected workforce is a deliberate creation: “The Government, they support the businessman,” Ari summed up as he gave me examples of low wages, long hours and racist employers.
To continue to receive £35 a week food vouchers and accommodation, asylum seekers must report monthly to police stations. Many have stopped doing this for fear of being detained and deported back to northern Iraq. The subsequent withdrawal of food vouchers and accommodation creates more destitution and desperation.
With evictions and the threat of forced deportations it appears that the human rights of part of our community have been suspended. The treatment of Iraqi Kurds from Burngreave concerns us all.
by Stuart Crosthwaite
What you can do
Support the demonstration against detention and deportation of Iraqi Kurds: Saturday 17th December 2005, 12pm, Peace Gardens.
Donate to ASSIST, a charity supporting destitute asylum seekers: c/o Central United Reformed Church, 60 Norfolk Street S1 2JB. Charity no: 1100894.
Volunteer for ASSIST. Contact email@example.com.
Get involved with the Campaign Against Detention and Deportation of Iraqis (CADDI). Contact: 0791 370 1740 (English) or 0770 426 6613 (Kurdish).
Also, see the letter from Burngreave Councillors to Home Secretary Charles Clark MP, copied to the Messenger.