GENEVA (Reuters) - The U.N. refugee agency criticised plans on Tuesday by several European countries to send home forcibly dozens of Iraqis this week, saying central provinces including Baghdad remain unsafe.
Britain, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden are coordinating the deportation of Iraqis to Baghdad, possibly as soon as Wednesday, after rejecting their asylum claims, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said.
"Despite these people having had their applications for asylum rejected, we fear for their futures and their own physical protection if they were to be returned," UNHCR spokeswoman Melissa Fleming told a news briefing.
Several dozen Iraqis are believed to be affected by the forced move, including about 10 in Britain, UNHCR spokesman Peter Kessler told Reuters.
UNHCR reaffirmed its guidance to governments since Oct. 2009 that Iraqis originating from the central provinces of Baghdad, Diyala, Kirkuk, Nineveh and Salahuddin still deserve protection in the form of refugee status, she said.
"We have reiterated our concern that Iraq, and particularly these areas of Iraq, is a very dangerous place," Fleming said.
"Our position reflects the volatile security situation and the high level of prevailing violence, security incidents and human rights violations taking place in these parts of Iraq."
Though violence is at a fraction of the level of its peak in 2006-07, civilian casualties have risen over the past two months, with attacks targeting police, government officials and Sunni ex-insurgents who switched sides to fight al Qaeda.
The UNHCR was aware of some Iraqis having been forced back from Britain last October, but this was the first time a number of countries were acting jointly, Fleming said.
The European Union's border control agency, Frontex, was believed to be coordinating the expulsions, she added.
The UNHCR was further concerned about the signal that forced returns from Europe could give other countries hosting Iraqi refugees, particularly neighbouring Jordan and Syria, which still have an estimated 2 million Iraqis.
(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; editing by Jonathan Lynn and Peter Graff)