Friday, 16 September 2005

British Government Asked to Reconsider Its Position on Zimbabwean Asylum Seekers

Asylum seekers, British lawmakers, Zimbabwean human rights activists and opposition party leaders, British and international non-governmental organizations, as well as British and international religious leaders have called upon the British government to reconsider its policy of deporting failed Zimbabwean asylum seekers.

The failed asylum seekers feel the Home Office is throwing them right back into the lion’s den from which they thought they had fled when they came to Britain. They dread falling back into the hands of President Robert Mugabe’s secret police and its Gestapo interrogation and torture tactics. For those who will survive these with their lives and sanity still intact, there is the added despair of state-imposed homelessness to deal with.

Over the past four months alone, the Zimbabwe government has killed three children; made between 200,000 and 1.5 million people homeless when it razed their homes to the ground; destroyed over 100,000 businesses and has arbitrarily arrested over 30,000 innocent people.

These recent attacks have been targeted at Zimbabwe’s urban population and are a calculated punishment for that population’s continued support of the opposition political party, the Movement for Democratic Change (M.D.C.).

Reports coming from Zimbabwe suggest that this is only the beginning. Worse abuses are on the way.

Despite being aware of the on-going, brutal, state-sponsored oppression and violence and the accompanying beatings, torture, political killings, forced evictions and arbitrary arrests that the Zimbabwean population is being subjected to, the British Home Office says it is safe to send people back to Zimbabwe.

In the first three months of 2005, 95 Zimbabweans were forcibly removed from Britain and there are plans to return a further 116 to Zimbabwe.

Immigration minister, Tony McNulty says: “Since returns were resumed to Zimbabwe last November, we have received no substantiated reports of abuse of any person returned to the country.”

However, officials in the Zimbabwe government have publicly said Britain is training spies, mercenaries and agents to destabilize the country and is sending them into Zimbabwe under the guise of returning failed asylum seekers.

On arrival the deportees are invariably met by Mugabe’s secret police, detained, tortured and interrogated. Some of the deportees have not been heard from since. Their families, both in Zimbabwe and in Britain, report that the last they heard of them was that they had been picked up by the secret police.

Archbishop Pius Ncube, winner of the 2005 Burns Humanitarian Award (Scotland’s equivalent of the Nobel Peace Prize), and a long-standing critic of Mugabe, says it is not safe to return asylum seekers to Zimbabwe.

He says: “People who were asylum seekers in Britain and are returned have been detained by the police in Zimbabwe, some being tortured and forced to confess that they were in anti-government activities.”

The M.D.C. leader, Morgan Tsvangirai and other opposition party lawmakers and non-governmental and human rights organizations operating in Zimbabwe, have said it is not safe to return failed asylum seekers.

The U.S. Department of State spokesman, Adam Ereli has talked of the “tragedy, crime, horror” and obscenity of what the Zimbabwean government is perpetrating against its own people while the head of the European Union, Jose Manuel Barroso says the situation is causing very “grave concern.”

Baroness Williams of Crosby, leader of the Liberal Democrats in the Lords, has gone further and accused the British government of acting illegally in breach of the U.N. Convention on Refugees.

She says: “It is clearly not safe for people with any record of political party activity to go back to Zimbabwe.”

Labor M.P., Kate Hoey, who secretly visited Zimbabwe recently, emphasizes that anyone who has a slightest involvement with any kind of opposition politics is in real danger.

“There should be an immediate stop on all removals until we have got to the bottom of some of the cases in a lot more detail but also until we see a changed situation in Zimbabwe,” Hoey says.

The foreign secretary, Jack Straw, is aware of the brutality of the Zimbabwe government.

Speaking in June, the foreign secretary said: “Over the past three weeks, the Mugabe regime has launched a brutal crackdown on some of the most vulnerable Zimbabweans”.

“There are also reports of children being detained in prison and separated from their parents.”

In July, a senior British judge called on the government of Prime Minister Tony Blair to halt all deportations of failed asylum seekers to Zimbabwe pending a further High Court hearing.

The comments came as scores of Zimbabwean asylum seekers went on a hunger strike to protest against being forced to return to their troubled country.

Judge Andrew Collins said he acted after a representative from the Refugee Legal Council told him there was evidence to suggest that asylum seekers were in danger of being ill-treated and abused under President Robert Mugabe’s regime, simply because they had claimed asylum in Britain.

He said it could be “arguable” on the basis of this material that it was unsafe to send back failed asylum seekers to the country.

Collins said there were between 70 and 80 applications before the High Court at the moment involving Zimbabweans fighting removal on the grounds that they fear for their lives or that they would suffer inhuman and degrading treatment.

Justice Collins “stayed” the cases while the Asylum and Immigration Tribunal (A.I.T.) looks at new evidence of the current situation in Zimbabwe. The A.I.T. will hear one test case to set out definitive guidance.

In response to the decision of Justice Collins in the High Court, Tim Finch, director of communications at the Refugee Council said:

“As a result of [the] hearing no more asylum seekers will be returned to Zimbabwe until at least October and that will be a huge relief to the men and women who faced being flown back to the country … Many of them are opponents of Mugabe and they would have been in real danger if they’d been sent home …

“The comments of the judge show that ministers are under intense pressure to back down and stop all returns to Zimbabwe until the situation there improves radically. This is clearly the right thing to do and the government should act now. There is no need for any more expensive and time-consuming court hearings when everyone can see that returning people to Zimbabwe is so unsafe.”

Barry Stoyle, chief executive of the Refugee Legal Centre, said:

“We are very concerned at the dangers faced by asylum seekers who are returned to Zimbabwe. We are pleased that the Court has agreed there is an arguable case that they face persecution. We look forward to being able to argue the matter in full before the Asylum and Immigration Tribunal.

“We are concerned that some Zimbabwean asylum seekers are still detained. It is now only proper for the Home Office to release all detained Zimbabwean detainees pending the outcome of the test cases.”

This article was first published on the World Press Review