Zimbabwean asylum seekers in the UK face an uncertain future after a High Court hearing today effectively gave the Home Office the power to send them home.
The government was challenging a ruling, from October last year, in which the Asylum and Immigration Tribunal judged that it was unsafe to deport asylum seekers to Zimbabwe, and that refugee status should currently be given to anyone from that country.
Three judges allowed the appeal, but the cases of the individual asylum seekers involved – known as AA and LK – will be referred back to the Tribunal to be heard again.
Maeve Sherlock, Chief Executive of the Refugee Council, said that although the Home Office says it does not intend to begin forcibly returning asylum seekers to Zimbabwe, the decision leaves a question mark over their future.
“We are very much back into a game of legal ping-pong, but it’s not a game for the thousands of people who are waiting to find out if they will be sent back to face Mugabe’s regime. We should not underestimate the dangers they face – people fleeing to the UK are seen as traitors, and a conviction for treason in Zimbabwe can carry the death penalty.
“The original decision was a common sense reaction to what is currently an extremely volatile situation in Zimbabwe. It did not result in masses of Zimbabweans coming to our shores, it merely meant that people could get some temporary respite from the dangers they faced. Unfortunately they will now face uncertainty once again.
“We would ask the government to show compassion by ending this legal limbo and restore the moratorium on returning people to Zimbabwe, so that Zimbabweans who have come here looking for safety can actually go to bed at night without worrying they will be returned home the next day.”
Since the ruling in October, most Zimbabwean asylum seekers have effectively been left destitute, as they get no state support, aren’t entitled to housing and are not allowed to work. Maeve Sherlock added:
“The Government has described the situation in Zimbabwe as a “nightmare regime” and has pledged to support those who can restore good governance there. We should be supporting those who have sought sanctuary here until they feel it is safe to return, and equipping them to rebuild Zimbabwe and restore democracy.”
One Zimbabwean asylum seeker, a journalist in her own country, said that if she returned at present she would face ‘interrogation, torture or worse’.
“People don’t realise quite how bad the situation is there. It really saddens me,” she said. “I’m going to fight until the end of the world to ensure my children and I are not sent back there to suffer.”
She added that she felt ‘in limbo’ while she was here, not being able to work.
“It’s so frustrating it hurts your mind to know you are capable of so much but you are not allowed. Since I’ve been here I’ve volunteered here, there and everywhere but it’s very hard to support my family. I feel trapped, and I just wish they would allow us to contribute by working.”
The judgement was made at the Royal Courts of Justice by Lord Justice Brooke, Lord Justice Laws and Sir Christopher Staughton. The Home Office was appealing the decision in October 2005 on the Country Guidance case ASA which found that it was not safe to forcibly remove Zimbabwean asylum seekers from the UK back to Zimbabwe.
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BBC Online: UK wins Zimbabwean asylum appeal
Conservative response: Government must ensure the safety of those returned to Zimbabwe can be monitored
Notes to Editors
1. The Court of Appeal (Civil Division) heard the case on 12th April 2006.
2. In the final quarter of 2005, just 385 people applied for asylum from Zimbabwe. Although an increase, this figures contrasts with government fears that people would try and exploit the fact that there was no way of returning them. See http://www.homeoffice.gov.uk/rds/immigration1.html
3. Previous press releases and a background report:
Zimbabwe too dangerous? Ruling challenged in Court of Appeal
Refugee Council’s statement following the test case win of a failed Zimbabwean asylum seeker facing deportation
Special report: Zimbabwean failed asylum seekers have short reprieve from deportation