The Home Office has canceled a chartered deportation flight to Iraq that was due to leave the UK on Tuesday evening.

Up to 30 Kurdish asylum seekers have faced deportation to northern Iraq in the first such trip in a decade.

Dozens of Iraqi Kurds were arrested in preparation for the trip. Many of those the Guardian spoke to were in deep distress, fearing for their lives if they were deported to their countries of origin.

The British Foreign Office has warned against any travel to Iraq, saying that “there is a significant risk of kidnappings across the country, including by ISIS”. [Islamic State] and other terrorist and extremist groups.

Interior Ministry contractors who participated in Tuesday’s deportation had to undergo special training to help them deal with risks such as kidnapping or hostage-taking. This training is not required for other Home Office relay destinations, such as Jamaica and Albania.

The plane was due to land in Erbil, in northern Iraq, where the Kurdistan Regional Government controls. It is understood that safety concerns played a role in the decision to cancel the flight. It is very unusual for the Home Office to cancel charter flights. Some relay flights are known to have one or a few people on board.

An Interior Ministry spokesman said it was not possible to comment “for practical reasons”.

Bella Sankey, director of Detention Charity, said: “The cancellation of this cruel mass deportation would be a huge relief to parents, children and grandchildren whose families would otherwise be torn apart.

It also shows how Priti Patel, in pursuit of cheap political arguments, has failed to respect people’s basic rights or even demonstrate basic competence in international diplomacy.

“The detainees and their families were needlessly tortured to fuel headlines and a divisive anti-immigrant agenda,” said Karen Doyle of Movement for Justice, an organization that campaigned against the charter flight on Tuesday.

“The Home Office likes to accuse ‘left-wing lawyers’ of thwarting their plans, but these mass deportation plans are expensive, impractical, massively illegal, and horribly unfair.”

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A Home Office spokesperson previously said: “We make no apologies for turning away foreign criminals and those who do not have the right to remain in the UK. The public rightly expects this and that is why we organize regular trips to different countries. People will not be sent back. Unless the Home Office and the courts, if necessary, deem it safe to do so.

“The new immigration plan will fix the crippled immigration system and expedite the expulsion of those who do not have the right to be here.”