GENEVA (Reuters) - The United Nations refugee agency said on Friday it was investigating accounts by rejected Iraqi asylum seekers deported from Britain that they were beaten by British border agents forcing them onto a plane.
"We are looking into the accounts of mistreatment among the rejected asylum seekers who were forcibly returned yesterday from the U.K.," UNHCR spokesman Andrej Mahecic said.
UNHCR lawyers in Baghdad interviewed 14 of the 42 men who were forcibly returned yesterday by the U.K. Border Agency, he told a news briefing in Geneva.
"The men claimed they were beaten by agency personnel in the airport in London while being forced onto the plane," he said.
UNHCR officials have met six of the Iraqis and "saw fresh bruises which indicate mistreatment could have occurred", according to the spokesman who had no further details.
Another 36 Iraqi asylum seekers were still being held at Baghdad airport by authorities, and UNHCR lawyers were in touch with some of them by telephone, he said.
All those interviewed so far said that 42 rejected Iraqi asylum seekers had been deported to Baghdad against their will, he said.
Britain was among four European countries that deported failed Iraqi asylum seekers earlier this month, UNHCR says.
The UNHCR has issued guidelines to all governments that Iraqis should not be sent home to five central provinces, including Baghdad, as these areas remain unsafe.
The U.K. Home Office (interior ministry) declined to comment on the report.
But a UK Border Agency spokesperson said: "We only ever return those who both the UK Border Agency and the courts are satisfied do not need our protection and refuse to leave voluntarily."
"A minimum use of force is an absolute last resort, and would only ever be used when an individual becomes disruptive or refuses to comply."
"Even then, force is only carried out by highly trained officers, and should be carefully monitored, proportionate, and used for the shortest possible period to ensure compliance."
(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Additional reporting by Adrian Croft in London; Editing by Jonathan Lynn)