Zimbabwe tension mounts, but UK deportation resumes

Deportation flights taking failed asylum seekers back to Zimbabwe are set to resume, the British Government announced today, just one day after a UN torture investigator was prevented from entering the country and a leading human rights organisation warned it was “on the brink of sliding back into violence”.



The forcible return of refugees from the UK to Zimbabwe was halted three years ago after the High Court ruled that opponents of President Robert Mugabe risked persecution on their return.

But yesterday Phil Woolas, the Immigration minister, said he was looking at “normalising” returns – claiming that the situation had been “improving” since Morgan Tsvangirai was appointed Prime Minister in February, following Mr Mugabe’s acceptance of a power-sharing agreement.

In a written statement to Parliament, Mr Woolas said: “The UK Border Agency will ... be starting work over the autumn on a process aimed at normalising our returns policy to Zimbabwe, moving towards resuming enforced returns progressively as and when the political situation develops.

“While a great deal remains to be done ... the indiscriminate violence which marred the elections of 2008 has abated. And the formation of the inclusive government has led to improvements in the economy, schools and the availability of basic commodities.”

He also announced that money and aid repatriation packages worth up to £6,000 would be offered to failed asylum seekers. Those accepting the incentives to return home voluntarily will be entitled to £2,000 in cash and £4,000 worth of benefits “in kind” – such as vocational training, help with setting up a business or meeting the cost of the flight.

The change of policy was met with outrage by human rights groups and refugee organisations, who insisted that Zimbabwe was still dangerous. On Wednesday, Amnesty International reported that the initial stability of the unity government had been undermined, and that the human rights situation in the country was “worsening”.

The agency drew attention to the recent arrests of two prominent civil leaders, and said it had received reports that supporters of Mr Mugabe’s Zanu-PF party had been threatening members of Mr Tsvangirai’s MDC (Movement for Democratic Change) with violence.

Cracks in the two parties’ power-sharing agreement were further highlighted when a UN special rapporteur on torture, Manfred Nowak, was prevented from entering the country by officials in Harare on Wednesday.

Mr Nowak had been invited to visit Zimbabwe for eight days by Mr Tsvangirai, but his clearance was withdrawn at the last minute and he was detained overnight. After returning to South Africa, the furious UN official said his treatment proved parts of the Zimbabwean government did not want him to assess “the current conditions of torture”.

Kate Allen, director of Amnesty International UK, described the timing of Mr Woolas’s statement as “straight out of Yes Minister”. She said: “Just as the UN torture monitor is kicked out of the country and Amnesty warns of increasing violence, the Home Office says that Zimbabwe is getting safer. The only people who won’t be laughing are Zimbabwean asylum seekers in the UK. They will now be terrified that they could soon be returned to a country where MDC supporters are once again living in fear of violence.”

Caroline Slocock, Chief Executive of Refugee and Migrant Justice said: "Once again the Government is jumping the gun by suggesting it is safe to start forcibly removing people to Zimbabwe, just as it did recently in carrying out a botched removal to central and southern Iraq. The UK courts have said that Zimbabweans would be at real risk of serious harm if they went home, unless they could demonstrate allegiance to or association with Mugabe's Zanu-PF party; and the Government should wait until the courts take a different view."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
News
Keith Fraser says we should give Isis sympathises free flights to join Isis (AFP)
news
Life and Style
Google celebrates the 126th anniversary of the Eiffel Tower opening its doors to the public for the first time
techGoogle celebrates Paris's iconic landmark, which opened to the public 126 years ago today
News
Cleopatra the tortoise suffers from a painful disease that causes her shell to disintegrate; her new prosthetic one has been custom-made for her using 3D printing technology
newsCleopatra had been suffering from 'pyramiding'
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Coachella and Lollapalooza festivals have both listed the selfie stick devices as “prohibited items”
music
Sport
Nigel Owens was targeted on Twitter because of his sexuality during the Six Nations finale between England and France earlier this month
rugbyReferee Nigel Owens on coming out, and homophobic Twitter abuse
  • Get to the point
2015 General Election
May2015

Poll of Polls

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Web Designer / Front End Developer

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast expanding web managem...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey / South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey/ South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Recruitment Consultant / Account Manager - Surrey / SW London

£40000 per annum + realistic targets: Ashdown Group: A thriving recruitment co...

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor