SA asked to take on failed African asylum seekers

South Africa this week emerged as the second African country with which the United Kingdom’s Home Office has started talks to take failed asylum seekers from Britain as part of a concerted drive to step up immigration removals and deportations.

The Home Office confirmed that it hopes to win South African cooperation in agreeing to take failed asylum seekers who have falsely claimed to be Zimbabweans.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair confirmed in the House of Commons on Wednesday The Guardian disclosure that negotiations with Tanzania are already under way for a £4-million British-funded scheme under which rejected asylum seekers would be sent to the African country as part of an overseas aid deal.

But Tanzania, which already houses more refugees than any other sub-Saharan country, on Wednesday said it had rejected the idea. ”We reject this proposal because we don’t see the reason or the logic for refugees to be sent to Tanzania before they are returned to their own country,” said John Chiligati, Tanzania’s Deputy Minister for Home Affairs.

Blair’s official spokesperson had confirmed that there is a second African country that Britain is hoping to persuade to tackle the problem, but declined to name it. ”I think at the moment my understanding is, it is one other country at the moment — in the same area.”

But the UK Home Office confirmed to The Guardian that it had opened talks with South Africa as well. ”We have spoken to South Africa and only had very preliminary discussions about cooperating on returning South Africans who may have falsely claimed to be Zimbabweans when they claimed asylum in Britain.”

A joint Home Office-Foreign Office team visited Dar es Salaam last year to discuss with Tanzanian officials the establishment of a processing centre in the country and a camp to deal with those wishing to claim asylum ”in-region” but also to take failed Somali asylum seekers from Britain.

The Home Office insists that those who will be returned to Tanzania are people who had falsely posed as Somalians to gain refugee status in Britain.

But refugee welfare organisations are convinced the Tanzanian scheme and the putative negotiations with South Africa will mean rejected asylum seekers from Somalia and Zimbabwe being sent from Britain to a neighbouring third country. Home Office officials are believed to have been making a ”Cook’s tour of the world” in their attempt to get new agreements to take Britain’s rejected migrants.

The difficulty of returning rejected asylum seekers to their countries of origin has long dogged attempts by ministers to increase the number of removals each year. A record 17 000 asylum seekers were removed last year, but that figure is far short of the 61 000 who applied.

China has proved a particular problem for British immigration officials, with the Chinese authorities reluctant to take back failed migrants whose nationality is in doubt because they have destroyed their documents. — Â

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Ewen Macaskill
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