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.

Kurdish journalists on death row honored in Siena

Two Kurdish journalists who have condemned in Iran, have been awarded a prestigious Italian prize for freedom of the press. Adnan Hassanpour and Khalil Boutimar were awarded in Siena’s Town Hall, and recognized for their insistence on publishing the controversial Kurdish-Farsi news magazine _Asu’ which was shut down by Iranian authorities in 2005 and later condemned to death. Boutimar is an environmental activist, and Hassanpour is an advocate for cultural rights of Iranian Kurds. Two Italian rights groups, Article 21 and ISF (Information, Safety, and Freedom) petitioned the Italian government to intervene on their behalf.

People-smugglers in court over British connection

A trial opened on November 15th in Paris, for some 25 men – mainly of Afghani and Iraqi Kurdish background – who allegedly smuggled thousands of illegal immigrants into Britain up until 2005. The network, nicknamed the Pashto Network has been described by prosecutors as the biggest immigration scam uncovered in recent years in France, with the alleged facing up to 10 years in jail. Believed to have been operating the network since as far back as 1999, an estimated 4,000 people have crossed the channel with the assistance of the 25 accused men.

Belgian police arrest over 100 in anti-Kurdish demonstrations

Over 100 youths of Turkish background were arrested in Brussels after clashing with Belgian police during an anti-Kurdish demonstration. Tensions have run high after the killing of twelve Turkish soldiers earlier this month in an attack by PKK rebels in northern Iraq. The youths were detained for destroying cars, bus stops, and garbage bins in the Saint Josse-ten-Noode neighborhood.

German court sentences Iraqi to 5 1/2 years for supporting terror group

A German court on Monday sentenced an Iraqi man to 5 1/2 years in prison for supporting an extremist group believed to have been behind attacks in his homeland. The Munich state court found that Ferhad Kanabi Ahmad, a 36-year-old Iraqi Kurd, gave the equivalent of $8,935 to a member of Ansar al-Sunna in Germany “and so supported terror in Iraq.” It stopped just short of the prosecution’s call for a six-year sentence. The defense had called for Ahmad to be acquitted. The defendant stayed silent during the yearlong trial, and the prosecutors’ case relied heavily on intercepted phone calls and e-mails. Ansar al-Sunna is the successor to Ansar al-Islam, which was formed in the Kurdish parts of Iraq and is believed to include former al-Qaida members who fled the U.S.-led ouster of Afghanistan’s Taliban rulers. The organizations are suspected of involvement in a string of deadly attacks on U.S. troops and Iraqi police as well as foreign embassies, international organizations and rival Iraqi groups.