Zimbabwe refugees may be sent back

The British government is to end its two-year suspension of deportations of failed asylum seekers to Zimbabwe because the concession has been abused, the immigration minister, Des Browne, announced on Tuesday.

The decision was immediately criticised by refugee welfare groups who expressed concern that anybody was to be forcibly returned to Robert Mugabe’s regime and demanded that the fate of those sent back be monitored by the British authorities.

The decision was announced on the day the England cricket team began its controversial southern African winter tour. The team arrive in Harare next Wednesday where they will play five internationals.

Several players have withdrawn on moral grounds, and the team has vowed not to take part in any official functions.

Browne said the decision to suspend all enforced returns to Zimbabwe in January 2002 had been made to ensure that nobody was returned to face intimidation or torture, but the concession had been exploited: “Zimbabweans and other foreign nationals posing as Zimbabweans, who do not need international protection, make asylum claims confident that even when claims are refused, they will not be returned. We need to stop this abuse.”

Browne insisted there had been no change in the government’s opposition to human rights abuses in Zimbabwe.

New asylum figures published on Tuesday show that from January to November this year 1 825 of the 2 025 people who applied for asylum from Zimbabwe had their claims rejected by the British Home Office, a 90% refusal rate.

Browne claimed this was clear evidence that the decision not to send anyone back was acting as a “pull factor” for others posing as Zimbabweans to apply for asylum in Britain.

But Maeve Sherlock, the chief executive of the British Refugee Council, protested strongly at this change of policy: “No one should be sent back to Zimbabwe before monitoring procedures are put in place.”

The announcement was made as the latest quarterly official figures showed that the number of asylum claims in Britain rose by 9% to 8 605 between July and September compared with the previous three months. The new asylum seekers came from Iran [935], China [620] and Somalia [570].

The British Home Office said the increase in the figures was due to seasonal factors and applications in September from 220 Eritreans who are trapped in domestic slavery in London.

The Home Office also finally published on Tuesday a two-year-old research report on the problems of estimating the size of the illegal migrant population living in Britain after repeated freedom of information demands.

The delayed Home Office report by the migration research unit of University College, London, on the problems of estimating the size of the illegally resident population in Britain says it may now be possible to using a combination of methods to come up with an authoritative figure.

The government has never published an official estimate for the number of migrants living illegally in Britain. The report, however, does not itself make an estimate. - Guardian Unlimited Â

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