Asylum seekers get reprieve

The proposal to hold elections next year has given thousands of failed Zimbabwean asylum seekers in Britain renewed impetus for an extended stay as this has raised fresh fears the country could once again return to violence.

Campaign groups there have already cited the impending election as one of the reasons why the UK should not proceed with the planned deportation of failed asylum seekers.

Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and President Robert Mugabe have reportedly agreed to hold elections in 2011 and that whoever lost should not challenge the outcome of the polls.

Henry Bellingham, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, told the House of Commons this week that the British government was “not starting enforced returns yet by any means”.

He said Britain would normalise its returns policy “as and when the political situation develops” in Zimbabwe.

A UK Border Agency fact-finding team visited the country last month seeking to prove the truthfulness or not of claims that Zimbabwe was still unsafe for failed asylum-seekers to return.

Leicester East MP Keith Vaz asked Bellingham: “Given the critical situation in Zimbabwe, does it remain the government’s policy that Zimbabwean citizens who have claimed asylum here will be removed to Zimbabwe?”

Bellingham replied: “The UK Border Agency is looking to start work on a process aimed at normalising our returns policy to Zimbabwe as and when the political situation develops. However, we are not starting enforced returns yet by any means.”

There are an estimated 20 000 failed Zimbabwean asylum seekers in the UK while several thousands are living there illegally.

Thousands of Zimbabweans were granted asylum after convincing the British government that they were victims of state persecution.

The UK Asylum and Immigration Tribunal in October last year ruled that it was not safe to return failed asylum seekers to Zimbabwe.

In its ruling it said: “Those at risk on return to Zimbabwe on account of imputed political opinion are no longer restricted to those who are perceived to be members or supporters of the MDC, but include anyone who is unable to demonstrate support for or loyalty to the regime or Zanu PF.”

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