US deports 30 Iraqis despite fears for their safety
Another 1,400 Iraqis in the US face the same fate
The United States has deported at least 30 people to Iraq, where they are at risk of arbitrary detention and mistreatment, and is threatening to send back hundreds more, according to rights groups
The deportees are among 1,400 Iraqis that the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is trying to send back, according to the American Civil Liberties Union.
Before US President Donald Trump’s “travel ban” in January 2017, the Iraqi government refused entry to citizens returning involuntarily. However, soon after the ban – which barred citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries, including Iraq, from entering the US – Iraq agreed to accept a small charter plane of deportees and to facilitate deportations. The White House subsequently removed Iraq from the list.
About 300 of the 1,400 Iraqis that ICE is trying to deport were arrested but later ordered freed after a legal challenge by the ACLU. Many of them had lived legally in the United States for decades, Human Rights Watch said in a report on the issue released on Thursday.
According to US law, even legal permanent residents can be deported if they are found guilty of crimes, even minor offences. Immigration violations such as overstaying visas are also grounds for deportation.
Human Rights Watch said some of the Iraqis were threatened with long imprisonment in the US if they did not agree to leave, putting them in a difficult situation because they did not have the necessary paperwork to live safely in Iraq.
“Anyone living in Iraq without valid Iraqi identity documents is vulnerable to arbitrary detention and ill-treatment,” said Lama Fakih, HRW deputy director for Middle East and Northern Africa.
"ICE should halt all deportations of Iraqis until it can ensure that they won’t face detention and ill-treatment, and Iraq should ensure that all Iraqi deportees are given proper Iraqi identity documents before they return”.
Three men deported to Iraq earlier this year told HRW that ICE officers and Iraqi consular representatives approached them in US immigration detention and threatened them with years of imprisonment if they did not sign Iraqi paperwork agreeing to their return.
One of the deportees said that before boarding his flight from Bahrain to Baghdad, the two ICE officers who had escorted him from the US demanded he sign a document.
The officer reportedly threatened the man, saying: “In prison, they’re going to see a guy with tattoos like this and they’re going to rape you.
“If you don’t sign the paperwork, we’re going to email the Iraqi government and tell them what kind of crimes you committed and how we deported you and you’re going to be in jail over there and God knows how long they’re going to keep you there,” the officer reportedly told the Iraqi.
Updated: December 20, 2018 12:47 PM