Zimbabweans desperate to remain in Britain

Free from the British detention centre where he had been on the brink of despair, a Zimbabwean asylum seeker has £10 ($18) to his name—not enough for the train fare needed to report to immigration officers, which could mean another trip back to detention.

The man says that despite his shame and loneliness, the alternative—kidnapping, torture, and possible disappearance—makes him desperate to remain in Britain. The British government, however, is eager to show it is tough on refugee claimants it considers bogus.

Like many of the 9 340 other Zimbabweans who have applied for asylum in Britain since 2001, Gumbo—who only uses his last name for fear of retribution—is desperate for a policy change to halt deportations of rejected asylum seekers.

Two years ago, London suspended deportations of Zimbabwean refugees. But several months later—in line with Britain’s tougher immigration policies—limited deportations were resumed.

That policy shift triggered a refugee hunger strike and outrage among asylum seekers and lawmakers alike.

Gumbo says that in Zimbabwe he was at risk for his political affiliations.

“If I am sent back right now, definitely I will be a dead man once I arrive there,” says Gumbo (39) who had a brush with members of the governing Zanu-PF party when he was spotted putting up notices for the Movement for Democratic Change.
One of his friends was murdered that day, and he has been afraid ever since.

“So many friends who we had here have disappeared,” he said.

“Friends deported from the UK and we never heard from them, no-one knows where they are.”

The Refugee Council of Britain argued before the High Court on Thursday that there is evidence to support the claim that asylum seekers face torture and arrest if returned to Zimbabwe, and the court decided to suspend deportation hearings until a special tribunal considers the matter.

That is not likely to take place before October. Until then, no-one will be deported, authorities say.

The Refugee Council called the decision “great news” for the cause, and activists celebrated outside the courthouse.

Thursday’s decision bought asylum seekers time, but their lives and futures remain in limbo.

Gumbo came to Britain in 2002, and his asylum application was rejected in 2004.

“They just tell you no, you’re not telling the truth, so we are rejecting your claim.”

He was held in one of Britain’s 10 detention centres for illegal aliens from December until May.

“They claim that it’s not a prison, but that place is a prison by any standards,” he said of the Colnbrook detention centre.

For Max, 29, who is still in detention, the rejection was more personal.

“If my story was not genuine, I wouldn’t have left my wife or my son. What would’ve been the point of leaving them? It pains me that I’m unable to see my wife for two years now, and I’m unable to see my son who’s been born.”

Britain’s Home Office said 145 Zimbabweans have been deported since November. In the meantime, Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe has undertaken a campaign of mass evictions and international players, including British Prime Minister Tony Blair, have called the regime abhorrent.

Max spent a year working overseas in 2001. The day he returned to Zimbabwe his parents received a threat from youth militia, saying they knew about his return and threatening them.

“They could kill me, they could kidnap me, and I could just disappear,” Max said.

Announcing a temporary halt to deportations last month, Home Secretary Charles Clarke stressed that immigration policy had not changed.

He said: “We remain of the view that the correct way to operate a fair but credible asylum system is to consider each asylum claim on its individual merits, to grant protection to those who need it, and to seek to remove those who do not,” whatever the claimant’s nationality.

Clarke said that the government continued to harbour grave concerns about the human rights situation in Zimbabwe, and that “we will continue to provide protection through the asylum system for Zimbabweans with a well founded fear of persecution.”

Critics say the asylum process is not fulfilling its purpose.

“We are calling for ... no one who is claiming asylum from Zimbabwe to be deported until the situation in the country has changed,” said Kate Hooey, a Labour Party lawmaker who recently visited Zimbabwe.

Max puts it more starkly: “Why would you want to send a Zimbabwean to Zimbabwe at this time?” - Sapa-AP

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