UK faces protests over Zimbabwe asylum deportations
Refugee groups, churches and human rights organisations today vowed to maintain pressure on the British government after Prime Minister Tony Blair refused to suspend the deportation of Zimbabwean asylum seekers back to Robert Mugabe's repressive regime.
According to recent reports 57 asylum seekers whose claims have been rejected by adjudicators have now been on hunger strike for six days. But Zimbabwean organisations in Britain believe that the true number may be nearer 115, said spokeswoman Rachael Chigawure.
Former government minister Barbara Roche, who was previously responsible for the asylum system, tonight called on Mr Blair (who has described the Zimbabwean government as 'awful') to change his mind.
'We should suspend removals to Zimbabwe because we cannot guarantee that these people will not be mistreated when they return,' she said, pointing to evidence of those tortured, beaten and killed by the security forces.
Ms Roche added: 'In this case the issue is not whether [specific] claims are well-founded, but what will happen to people if they are returned.' Compliance with United Nations standards in the treatment of refugees requires a precautionary approach, she declared.
Britain removed its moratorium on deporting Zimbabwean asylum claimants in November 2004. The Home Secretary has refused to reinstate it, in spite of a worsening human rights situation and worldwide outrage at President Mugabe's demolition campaign against the urban poor.
One Mugabe victim, Roderick Chepeze, spoke to Channel 4 News this evening about his mistreatment at the hands of the regime. And asylum seeker Dumu Tatani said that he would face persecution if removed.
Conservative spokesperson David Davis, a contender for his party's leadership, said that removals of Zimbabweans should be ended for two to three months while Britain set up a monitoring system in Harare to ensure that those returned were not tortured or killed.
But human rights organisations say that such an approach would be expensive, impractical and uncertain. The Zimbabwean government has barred, restricted or repatriated international monitors in recent years.
Campaigners say that what is needed instead is an unambiguous moratorium and a change of heart among politicians of both main parties, who have used asylum as a political football. British church leaders have also been outspoken in their concerns about government policy on asylum recently.