BAGHDAD – BAGHDAD (AP) — Several dozen Iraqis who failed to gain asylum in Europe returned to Iraq on Wednesday despite concerns the country is still too dangerous, the U.N. refugee agency said.
Security has dramatically improved in Iraq since the height of sectarian bloodshed in 2006 and 2007, but the UNHCR has urged governments not to force Iraqis who fled the country after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion to return, citing continued attacks and human rights violations.
After the plane carrying a batch of deportees landed at Baghdad airport Wednesday afternoon, 10 of the passengers refused to disembark and had to be escorted off the aircraft by police, an Iraqi airport official said.
The returnees did not resist the security personnel who boarded the plane, but told them they were not returning to Iraq voluntarily, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media.
The official said all the deportees will be questioned by police before being let into the country.
The plane arrived from Stockholm with 27 Iraqi deportees from Sweden, nine from Norway, four from the Netherlands and an unknown number from the United Kingdom, Sybella Wilkes, a UNHCR spokeswoman, told The AP. The Iraqi official said 56 deportees were returned Wednesday from several European countries.
Wilkes said in a phone interview that the governments participating in the latest deportation — the fourth such known flight to Iraq in the past two months — provided the U.N. agency with very limited and late information.
"We don't know who they (the deportees) are and which parts of Iraq they are returning to," Wilkes said. "We'd like to be given information about the people aboard these flights well in advance so that we can determine that none of them is being returned into harm's way."
While the Kurdish autonomous region in northern Iraq and most of the south of the country have been relatively peaceful in the past, the U.N. agency considers Baghdad, Kirkuk and the northern provinces of Ninevah, Diyala and Salahuddin as unsafe for returns due to continued attacks, sectarian tensions and human rights violations.
Most of the 2 million Iraqi refugees are living without permanent homes in neighboring Syria and Jordan. The U.N. expressed concern that the European decision to deport Iraqis would send the wrong signal to Damascus and Amman.
Iraqi authorities have encouraged people to return to their homeland, insisting the country's security forces are able to protect them as U.S. forces leave.
Meanwhile, nine people were injured in two separate roadside bomb attacks Wednesday in eastern and central Baghdad, police and hospital officials in the capital said.
Although violence has dropped significantly in Iraq, insurgents have hammered Iraqi forces and government buildings, capitalizing on gaps in security as the U.S. scales back its military mission and Iraqi politicians fail to overcome divisions and form a new government after national elections in March.
The March 7 vote produced no clear winner, setting up a contentious fight between the Sunni-backed Iraqiya bloc of Ayad Allawi and the State of Law coalition of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shiite. Allawi narrowly defeated al-Maliki in the vote, but both men claim they have the mandate to form a new government.
Earlier this month, The Iraqi National Alliance, a powerful Iranian-backed Shiite bloc that has formed a shaky coalition with al-Maliki's State of Law, added a third man to the political wrangling by naming the Shiite vice president, Adel Abdul-Mahdi, their candidate for the prime minister's post.
On Wednesday, officials from both Shiite blocks said the alliance has suspend talks with Allawi's list on forming a government until its members agree on one Shiite candidate to challenge the Sunni-backed Allawi for the premiership.
Members of the Shiite coalition said they will choose between al-Maliki and Abdul-Mahdi by early next week.
Associated Press writer Malin Rising in Stockholm and Qassim Abdul Zahra in Baghdad contributed to this report.