Britain temporarily halts deportations to Zimbabwe

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Indy Politics

Britain temporarily halted deportations of asylum­seekers to Zimbabwe today after Home Secretary David Blunkett called for a review of the situation in the southern African country.

A Home Office spokesman said nobody had been deported Monday and the ban would remain for 24 hours while an assessment was carried out.

Zimbabwe has seen growing unrest in the run­up to a presidential election in March. Government­backed militants beat and critically injured several opposition activists over the weekend and burned down an opposition party office.

President Robert Mugabe also is backing a bill that would ban foreign journalists from working in the country and require local journalists to register with the government or face up to two years in jail.

In Britain, opposition politicians and refugees groups have asked the government to stop deporting Zimbabwean asylum seekers. Some are opposition activists who say they face the possibility of being killed or tortured by Mugabe's secret police.

"There is a real possibility that this will save lives," said Nick Hardwick, chief executive of the Refugee Council.

"In the short term we hope the Home Office will listen to experts when updating their country assessment. In the longer term we urge the Home Office to establish an independent body to produce country assessments so that this situation does not arise again."

Conservative Party foreign­affairs spokesman Oliver Letwin said the suspension of deportations was "a victory for common sense."

Prime Minister Tony Blair's official spokesman said an updated country assessment of the situation in Zimbabwe would be issued to immigration officials shortly.

"We do have concerns in relation to the position there and that is obviously being monitored very closely," the spokesman said on customary condition of anonymity.