Labour retreats on deportation threat to Zimbabweans

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The threat of deportation has been lifted from more than 10,000 Zimbabwean asylum-seekers while Robert Mugabe remains in power.

The Government signalled the U-turn after The Independent revealed last month that ministers had provoked outrage by preparing to resume deportations to Zimbabwe if they won a long-running court battle over the issue.

Gordon Brown said yesterday that "no one is being forced to return to Zimbabwe from the United Kingdom at this time", while the Labour deputy leader Harriet Harman promised MPs: "There will not be any forced removals to Zimbabwe during the current situation."

Today, campaigners will call for the Government to grant Zimbabweans given formal leave to remain in Britain the right to work and support themselves. Senior figures including the Archbishop of York, John Sentamu, will call for an end to the limbo facing thousands of Zimbabweans, whose asylum claims have failed and are waiting for the end of test cases to determine whether they are sent back to their homeland.

The Government had faced fury by publicly condemning the Mugabe regime at the same time as pressing ahead with legal moves that would allow it to deport thousands of Zimbabwean failed asylum-seekers.

No 10 said last month that it "expects shortly to be in a position to enforce the return of those unsuccessful Zimbabwean asylum-seekers who have been found not to need the protection of the UK yet refuse to leave voluntarily".

Amnesty International UK's campaigns director Tim Hancock said: "Zimbabweans and others who have been refused asylum are being treated inhumanely. Many are reduced to poverty – forced to scavenge for food; to go without vital medicines even after suffering torture." The Refugee Council said Zimbabwean asylum-seekers were being "left to rot". Its chief executive, Donna Covey, said: "It is utter hypocrisy for the Prime Minister to be talking about his 'revulsion' at Mugabe's treatment of his people, when brave men and women who've had to escape to the UK after standing up for human rights and democracy in Zimbabwe are being left homeless and hungry as a direct result of his Government's shameful policies."

Damian Green, the Conservatives' immigration spokesman, said Zimbabweans were still receiving letters threatening them with deportation. "This shows that whatever ministers say in public is not filtering through to officials at the UK Borders Agency," he said. "As a result unnecessary stress in being caused to Zimbabweans living in Britain."

Chris Huhne, the Liberal Democrats' home affairs spokesman, added: "On one hand, the Government insists there will be no removals but on the other, [it] continues to pursue the matter through the courts and Zimbabweans continue to languish in detention centres."

In a separate development the Home Office confirmed it would halt deportations of Darfuri asylum-seekers pending a court challenge to Home Office guidelines allowing them to be sent back to the Sudanese capital Khartoum. The announcement came after The Independent revealed on Monday that deportations to the troubled state had been resumed, despite warnings that asylum-seekers face arrest, torture or death if they return.

Plight of the failed asylum-seekers

Darfur

The Government lifted its ban on deporting asylum-seekers to Darfur this month despite warnings of widespread murder and torture of dissidents. Deportees say they were detained for months and beaten. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees says Darfuris returned to Khartoum face torture or death, and campaigners say attacks by rebels near Khartoum made all Darfuris in the capital vulnerable to persecution. Deportation of Darfuris to Sudan stopped last year as the Home Office fought a legal battle with protest groups. The Government promised to halt removals while it reviewed new evidence.

Zimbabwe

The Home Office has been engaged in a High Court battle to deport up to 13,000 failed asylum-seekers to Zimbabwe, despite warnings that they face persecution there for having sought asylum in Britain. State-sponsored violence surrounding the presidential election run-off has resulted in the murders of several opposition activists. Last month Gordon Brown denounced Robert Mugabe's regime as a "criminal cabal", and the Foreign Office has warned against all travel to Zimbabwe. Campaigners have criticised the Government's "double standards".

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