The Home Office has decided that Iraq is now safe enough for Iraqi refugees and asylum seekers living in Britain to be forced to return there.

The Home Office has already had scores of Iraqis rounded up and sent to detention centres ready for repatriation.

Yesterday it refused to confirm how many had been detained but campaigners fear the figure could be in the hundreds. One said: “The numbers are substantial. We have heard of sweeps of whole houses.”

The move comes as the Foreign Office advises Britons against non- essential travel to Iraq and warns of an expected surge in attacks by insurgents.

A friend of an Iraqi refugee in London tells me that a large number of Iraqi refugees checking in with the immigration authorities have been detained and are now being held in privately-operated prisons around Britain, awaiting deportation to their “safe” home country.

Update: The Times has more on the forcible deportation of Iraqis today:

Whitehall was accused last night of trying to kick out the detainees in secret to avoid criticism. Ministers had to back down over deporting Zimbabwean asylum-seekers this summer after protests by MPs, church leaders, civil liberties groups and the intervention of the High Court.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees said that Britain had not given notification of the move, and it described the expulsions as wrong. UN officials are hoping to meet Home Office ministers to try to halt the removals.

Update 2: Refugee Action has issued a statement condemning forced removals to Iraq. Meanwhile, four “detention centres” run by GSL UK Limited, in which refugees are held, are not suitable for overnight stays according to the Chief Inspector of Prisons.