Britain denies claims of mistreatment of Iraqi refugees

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Britain rejected allegations Friday from the UN refugee agency that Iraqis deported this week to Baghdad might have been mistreated, and insisted it had the right to send them back.

The office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which has recently criticised London for sending Iraqi refugees home, said it was looking into claims by some of the 42 men deported Wednesday that they were beaten.

"We reject all allegations that Iraqi returnees removed from the UK were mistreated by our staff," said David Wood, strategic director of the criminality and detention group of the UK Border Agency.

He confirmed that 42 Iraqis were removed from Britain on a chartered flight to Baghdad on Wednesday, saying: "All detainees had no right to remain in the UK and their appeals were dismissed by the courts."

"We would prefer that those with no basis of stay in the UK left voluntarily. However, where they refuse to do so, we will take steps to enforce their departure," he added.

The refugees included 24 failed asylum seekers and 17 people who had been convicted of crimes including drugs offences, grievous bodily harm and sexual offences, a spokesman for the Home Office said.

He told AFP that none of the men had been handcuffed until they got on the plane, when two were cuffed "to prevent harm to others or themselves", while one had to be carried on board but "offered no resistance".

When they arrived in Baghdad, about 30 refugees refused to get off but when one of them was taken by the arm and led off, the others followed, he said. The whole journey was filmed and two top officials were on board as witnesses.

The UNHCR has warned Britain, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden against deporting Iraqi refugees to Baghdad, pointing to persistent security threats in central regions of the country, but Britain insists it is safe enough.

© 2010 AFP

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