Thousands of failed Zimbabwean asylum seekers in the United Kingdom could be deported back home by Christmas following this week’s visit by a United Kingdom Border Agency fact-finding team seeking to prove the truthfulness or not of claims that Zimbabwe was still unsafe for them to return.
There is an estimated 20 000 failed asylum seekers in the UK while several thousands are living there illegally.
The team’s findings will be tabled at a tribunal in October, which will decide the fate of the asylum seekers.
Thousands of Zimbabweans were granted asylum after convincing the British government that they were victims of state persecution.
Andrew Jones, the British embassy’s first secretary in charge of migration, said the information gathered by the fact-finding team would be used as evidence in the UK Asylum Tribunal in October, adding that people not deserving asylum would be sent back to Zimbabwe.
“The aim of the mission is to ensure that the UK Border Agency has the most up-to-date information on the situation in Zimbabwe.
This information will be presented by the government as evidence in a country guidance hearing in the UK Asylum Tribunal that will take place in October this year,” he said.
“The UK Government takes its international obligations to refugees very seriously. We will continue to grant protection to those who need it. But we expect those who do not need it to return home.”
Jones said fact-finding missions are sent to countries where there is need for additional information to inform the asylum decision-making process teams, an indication that the UK believes that conditions in Zimbabwe could be conducive for failed asylum seekers to return home.
He said the visit by the fact-finding team was a follow-up to a government decision made last year.
He said the UK Immigration Minister in the previous government, Phil Woolas, made a statement in Parliament in October last year on the issue of failed asylum seekers and illegal migrants in the UK.
“We have kept this issue under review since the Home Office first deferred enforced returns to Zimbabwe in September 2006 and the courts have found that not all Zimbabweans are in need of international protection. The UK Border Agency will, therefore, be starting work over the autumn on a process towards normalising our returns policy to Zimbabwe, towards resuming enforced returns progressively as the political situation develops,” Woolas said.
Thousands of Zimbabweans have sought political asylum in the UK citing political violence.
A report by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) titled 2009 Global Trends: Refugees, Aslyum Seekers, Returnees, Internally Displaced and Stateless Persons, says more than 158 000 Zimbabweans had applied for asylum in 2009. Most of those who sought asylum were in South Africa.
Meanwhile, human rights groups, which successfully stopped the deportation of failed asylum seekers from the UK last year, are preparing to fight the British government over the deportations threat.
Paradzai Mapfumo, of the UK-based Restoration of Human Rights Zimbabwe, was quoted saying any plans to remove asylum seekers was wrong, because of the ongoing politically motivated violence.
“We will definitely protest because it is not in the interest of our members. I know of asylum seekers who went home and were harassed,” he said.
“I don’t see it as a good move because the violence is on its high in Zimbabwe. When they send the (fact-finding) team, they will be led to safer parts of Harare and Bulawayo, but they will not be taken to the rural areas where it is really serious,” he added.
The UK Asylum and Immigration Tribunal in October last year ruled that that it was not safe to return failed asylum seekers to Zimbabwe.
Evidence from the fact-finding team is likely to be used to prove otherwise.