UK says now deporting Zimbabwean asylum seekers

BRITAIN’S Home Office confirmed on Wednesday that it had resumed the removal of failed asylum seekers to Zimbabwe, hours after a 45-year-old woman was bundled onto a Kenyan Airways plane and sent home.

Lawyers and refugee groups said they believed the woman, who cannot be named for her own protection, was among the first to be returned since immigration judges ruled in March that failed asylum seekers who have no significant MDC profile had a reduced risk of persecution in Zimbabwe.

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Confirming the deportation of the woman held at an immigration removal centre since May 25, a UK Border Agency spokesman told New Zimbabwe.com: “Following the determination in the recent Zimbabwean Country Guidance case, the UK has resumed returns to the country.

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“The UK Border Agency will continue to consider all asylum applications from Zimbabwe on their individual merits and with enormous care.

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“We prefer people who are here illegally to leave voluntarily and we offer an assistance package to help them re-integrate into their home country. For those who choose not to do so, it becomes necessary to enforce their departure.”

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Refugee groups and immigration lawyers say there are up of 10,000 Zimbabwean asylum seekers who are at risk of being returned to face Robert Mugabe’s brutal regime.

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The timing of the removals, coming as it does with the spectre of fresh violence on the horizon after Mugabe signalled elections will be held within the next 12 months, has drawn sharp condemnation.

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“The Home Office seem to be going about this by stealth. Although they are entitled to begin removals of failed asylum seekers, it is important that this is properly publicised so that appropriate legal action can be mounted,” immigration lawyer Taffy Nyawanza said last night.

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“I think there is a basis for arguing that returns are premature at this stage and obtaining a blanket injunction against removals that protects all Zimbabweans in the run-up to elections.”

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Nyawanza, the principal solicitor at the Birmingham-based Genesis Law Associates, said the situation in Zimbabwe was currently “in a state of flux”, adding that “it would be unwise to begin enforced returns at this juncture.

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“Just a month ago, the UK Supreme Court handed down judgement in a case called Kambadzi where at paragraph 24, there was confirmation that no removals were taking place,” he said.

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“Even the Home Office’s own Operational Guidance note on Zimbabwe specifically mentions two classes of returnees at paragraph 5.4, namely those under the Assisted Voluntary Return (AVR) Scheme, and the Assisted Voluntary Departure procedure. Enforced returns are not mentioned.

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“The Home Office should therefore stick to their own policy, or publicise a change of policy first before beginning enforced removals.”

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The Zimbabwe Association, a London-based refugee advocacy group, also said it had been taken by surprise by the latest move.

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A spokeswoman said: “We are aware of about five cases of Zimbabweans held at immigration removal centres, but it’s usually individuals released from prison who are liable for deportation.

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“If the Home Office is now sending people to Zimbabwe, it raises serious concerns about the welfare of these individuals.”

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The woman removed on Tuesday night “arrived safely in Harare”, her family in the UK said.

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“We fought right through to the end but they were determined to remove her,” said a family member who spoke to her by telephone following her arrival.

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The Home Office stated on her notice of removal that she had “overstayed”.

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She arrived in the UK in April 2000 on a visitor’s visa which expired on October 18, 2001. She did not claim asylum until 2009, and she was denied.

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On May 12 last month, she launched a fresh asylum claim. She was invited to attend the UK Border Agency’s offices in Cardiff to be told of their new determination on her fresh claim.

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But she was immediately detained and taken to the Yarls Wood Immigration Removal Centre leading to her deportation on Tuesday night.

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