U.N. probing Britain over Iraqi mistreatment claims

Asylum seekers say they were beaten by border agency staff

Published June 18, 2010 12:59PM (EDT)

The U.N. refugee agency said Friday it is investigating claims by Iraqi asylum seekers that they were mistreated by British officials before being deported back to Iraq.

Fourteen failed asylum seekers told lawyers of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees in Baghdad that they were beaten by staff from the U.K. Border Agency in a London airport before being forced onto the plane to Iraq on Thursday, said UNHCR spokesman Andrej Mahecic.

"We've met with six of them and saw fresh bruises that indicated mistreatment could have occurred," he told reporters in Geneva.

The 14 were among 42 rejected Iraqi asylum seekers who were sent back forcibly to Baghdad on Thursday, he said.

Mahecic said the agency managed to speak to another eight of the 42 deported asylum seekers by telephone.

"All those interviewed reported that 42 deportees were forcibly returned to Baghdad against their will," he said.

UNHCR has repeatedly told governments that they should not return asylum seekers to Baghdad and Iraq's five central provinces because the area is not secure enough for their return, Mahecic said.

Several European governments, including Britain, Sweden, Denmark and the Netherlands, recently deported around 60 failed asylum seekers to Iraq, despite UNHCR's guidelines.

Security has seen dramatic improvements over the past two years in Iraq. But the UNHCR had urged governments not to force the Iraqis to return, citing continued attacks and human rights violations in Baghdad and surrounding areas.

Most of the 2 million Iraqi refugees are living without permanent homes in neighboring Syria and Jordan. The U.N. says it is worried European governments sending back Iraqi asylum seekers would send the wrong signal to those countries.

By Associated Press

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