British PM defends deportation of Iraqi refugees

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British Prime Minister David Cameron defended Wednesday the decision to send asylum seekers back to Iraq as a campaign group said 10 people had been deported, despite concerns from the UN refugee agency.

Asked about the issue in parliament, Cameron refused to confirm that a flight left Britain early Wednesday for Iraq but said that British troops had fought to ensure that the country was safe enough for refugees to return.

The United Nations refugee agency has warned Britain, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden against plans to deport Iraqi refugees to Baghdad, pointing to persistent security threats across the country.

"Iraq now at least has some chance of stability and of democracy and we're actually seeing some progress in Iraq," Cameron told lawmakers at his weekly question and answer session in the House of Commons.

He added: "One of the reasons that our brave servicemen and women fought and died in Iraq was to try to make that a more stable country and a country that people who had fled would be able to return to."

"We're here to offer people asylum when they're fleeing torture and persecution but if we help to make their country safe they should be able to go home," he said.

Britain was part of the US-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003 which toppled dictator Saddam Hussein, and pulled its troops out last year.

The Home Office has refused to say whether a flight left Britain on Wednesday, but Dashty Jamal of the International Federation of Iraqi Refugees said he believed it had.

He had been in contact with 10 refugees who were told they would be flown out at 5:00am, and told AFP that he had received a call at 3:00am from an Iraqi refugee who "told me his friend was taken out by a number of security guards".

Another 50 people are expected to be deported next Wednesday, although they did not want to, fearing persecution, Jamal said.

"The UK is responsible for their lives. If anything happens, the UK government is responsible," Jamal said.

The plane was to stop off in Stockholm to pick up some refugees there before heading to Iraq, he said.

© 2010 AFP

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