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  • Hani al-Bazoni, who was deported from the U.S. to Iraq under Donald Trump's strengthened immigration enforcement, shows a picture of his family.

    Hani al-Bazoni, who was deported from the U.S. to Iraq under Donald Trump's strengthened immigration enforcement, shows a picture of his family. | Photo: Reuters

Published 24 September 2019

“I am too afraid to leave the house,” Bazoni told Reuters. “I don’t know anyone here and I don’t have any money.”

Hani al-Bazoni was deported from the United States to Irak in January, his life back in Iraq has been shrouded in fear and isolation, as he has been living in a small room in the city of Basra with the daily visits of his sister as his unique activity.

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“I am too afraid to leave the house,” Bazoni told Reuters. “I don’t know anyone here and I don’t have any money.”

Bazoni said he often struggles to get up from his mattress where he passes long hours looking at photos of his wife and seven children, all U.S. citizens. His eldest son is a cadet in the U.S. Marines, and his youngest is three years old.

The Iraqi national moved to the U.S. as a refugee in the 1990s. There, he spent time in jail on assault charges but also worked as a translator for the military, a job that leaves him dangerously exposed in Iraq, where powerful militias disapprove of the presence of U.S. troops in the country. 

U.S. congressmen, lawyers, and human rights activists say Iraq, still riven by sectarian divisions 16 years after the U.S.-led invasion, remains unsafe for such returnees.

Like Bazoni, dozens of people of Iraqi origin were deported from the U.S. since 2017, when Iraq agreed to take back its citizens with criminal convictions as part of a deal to remove itself from President Donald Trump’s travel ban, which targets people from several Muslim-majority countries.

“I never thought I’d come back to Iraq,” Bazoni said. “I lost my job, I lost my family, I lost my kids. And maybe soon, I’m going to lose my life.”

Following the 2017 deal, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) arrested hundreds of the 1,400 Iraqis eligible for deportation because they had criminal convictions, which would have prevented them from gaining U.S. citizenship.

ICE said 61 Iraqis were deported in the year to Sept. 30, 2017, and 48 in the following 12 months. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)  said it had been told by ICE that 30 Iraqis have been deported so far in 2019. Many of the more than 370 arrested since 2017 now await deportation, Bazoni's story is just one of many.

“Deportees are treated with immediate suspicion, simply caused by their association with America,” said Daniel Smith, a human rights researcher who has been an expert witness in dozens of deportation cases.

Some arrive in a country they haven’t seen in decades, with no network, no identity documents, and little Arabic. Their vulnerability leaves them open to accusations of spying, kidnapping for ransom and harassment from militias, the expert added.

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