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
Life and Style
Fans line up at the AVNs, straining to capture a photo of their favourite star
life Tim Walker asks how much longer it can flesh out an existence
Life and Style
Every minute of every day, Twitter is awash with anger as we seek to let these organisations know precisely what we think of them
techWhen it comes to vitriol, no one on attracts our ire more than big businesses offering bad service
News
Professor David Nutt wants to change the way gravely ill patients are treated in Britain
people Why does a former Government tsar believe that mind-altering drugs have a place on prescription?
News
Norway’s ‘The Nordland Line – Minute by Minute, Season by Season’ continues the trend of slow TV
television
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
art
Sport
Jonny Evans has pleaded not guilty to an FA charge for spitting at Papiss Cisse
football
Life and Style
Kate Moss will make a cameo appearance in David Walliams' The Boy in the Dress
fashion
News
The image released by the Salvation Army, using 'The Dress'
news
Sport
Liverpool defender Kolo Toure
football Defender could make history in the FA Cup, but African Cup of Nations win means he's already content
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

Ashdown Group: Technical Presales Consultant - London - £65,000 OTE.

£65000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Technical Presales Engineer - central London ...

Recruitment Genius: Physiotherapist / Sports Therapist

£20000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Physiotherapist / Sports Ther...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive / Advisor

£8 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives / Advisors are required...

Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Operative

£14000 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for a...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

Homeless Veterans campaign

Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

Lost without a trace

But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

Confessions of a planespotter

With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

Russia's gulag museum

Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

The big fresh food con

Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

Virginia Ironside was my landlady

Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

Paris Fashion Week 2015

The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
8 best workout DVDs

8 best workout DVDs

If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

Paul Scholes column

I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable