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Exiles: UK sends fact-finding team

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The fate of thousands of Zimbabwean asylum seekers in the United Kingdom could be sealed this week after UK authorities sent a fact-finding team to Zimbabwe to determine whether there were grounds for their continued stay.
The fact-finding team — made up of officials from the Border and Immigration Agency — held meetings with stakeholders, including civil society, in Harare last week.
They were in Bulawayo yesterday.
British Embassy spokesman Keith Scott confirmed the development although he could not give details saying he was travelling outside the country. He referred questions to Andrew Jones, who is in charge of migration, but officials said he would only be available at the embassy tomorrow.
Sources, however, said the team has been meeting officials from international organisations working in Zimbabwe, civil society and other stakeholders to get an appreciation of what is happening on the ground.
“Basically they want to find out if it will be safe for asylum seekers to be returned to Zimbabwe. The information which they will get will then be used to determine whether failed asylum seekers in the UK will be sent back home or not,” said a member of a non-governmental organisation who met the team.
“They are meeting as many people as possible so that they can make an informed decision at the end of the day.”
The team is expected to fly back to the UK tomorrow where they will consolidate the information and make submissions to the British Home Office.
Thousands of Zimbabweans have sought political asylum in the UK citing political violence.
It is estimated that about 200 000 people from Zimbabwe have claimed asylum in the UK, while a report by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) titled 2009 Global Trends: Refugees, Asylum-Seekers, Returnees, Internally Displaced and Stateless Persons, says more than 158 000 Zimbabweans had applied for asylum in 2009 alone. Most of those who sought asylum last year were in South Africa.
“What came out at most of the meetings is that the level of violence and the situation in the country in general has improved since the Government of National Unity was formed. There is, however, a general feeling that the country is still volatile and incidence of violence may rise again if elections are held next year,” said a source who attended one of the meetings. The visit by the fact-finding team comes after the British government was last year stopped from deporting more than 1 000 failed asylum seekers from Zimbabwe.
The UK Asylum and Immigration Tribunal in October last year ruled that it was not safe to return failed asylum seekers to Zimbabwe.
The ruling came after High Court Judge Justice Collins had put a stay on all removals of Zimbabweans after getting fresh evidence suggesting that failed asylum seekers were in danger of being ill-treated and abused on return to Zimbabwe.
The British Home Office is on record saying some Zimbabweans had abused the country’s laws by seeking asylum for economic reasons.

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