From Baghdad to Britain

They come to Britain fearing for their lives back home, hoping for a new beginning. But for thousands of Iraqi asylum seekers there is no welcome and instead they face misery and destitution before they are deported. Hannah Godfrey hears their stories Hraz is 22, but looks much older. He worked for the Americans in Kirkuk guarding a petrol station, and has a bullet wound in his bottom from where he was shot by Ba’ath party supporters because of his involvement with the occupying army. But that was only the beginning of his troubles. His father joined the militant Kurdish Sunni group Ansar al-Islam and wanted Hraz to fight with him. He refused, because, he says, “I like life, I don’t want to kill people.” His father now wants to kill him, in punishment. His mother told him he had to leave the country to protect himself. The percentage of Iraqis who have had their asylum claims accepted by the British government has plummeted since the fall of Saddam Hussein five years ago. Before the 2003 invasion, almost half of Iraqi asylum claims were successful. Since then, the recognition rate has fallen to an average of less than 3%. This is despite the fact that, throughout the war, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) has advised that Iraqi asylum seekers – particularly those from the central and southern areas – should be either recognised as refugees or provided with another form of protection. In the period preceding the invasion an average of 800 Iraqis were granted asylum each year in this country; since 2003 numbers have fallen to between five and 150, while applications have averaged about 1,500 per year during this period.