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."

News
Emma Watson has become the latest target of the 4Chan nude hacking scandal
peopleThreats follows actress' speech on feminism and equality at the UN
News
Alan Bennett criticised the lack of fairness in British society encapsulated by the private school system
peopleBut he does like Stewart Lee
Sport
David Moyes and Louis van Gaal
football
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black and Ed Stoppard as her manager Brian Epstein
tvCilla Episode 2 review: Grit under the glamour in part two of biopic series starring Sheridan Smith
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
tech
Life and Style
Alan Turing, who was convicted of gross indecency in 1952, was granted a royal pardon last year
life
Life and Style
life
Arts and Entertainment
Tennis player Andy Murray's mum Judy has been paired with Anton du Beke for Strictly Come Dancing. 'I'm absolutely delighted,' she said.
tvJudy Murray 'struggling' to let Anton Du Beke take control on Strictly
Life and Style
Vote with your wallet: the app can help shoppers feel more informed about items on sale
lifeNew app reveals political leanings of food companies
Arts and Entertainment
The cover of Dark Side of the Moon
musicCan 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition? See for yourself
Sport
New Zealand fly-half Aaron Cruden pictured in The Zookeeper's Son on a late-night drinking session
rugby
Arts and Entertainment
Worldwide ticket sales for The Lion King musical surpassed $6.2bn ($3.8bn) this summer
tvMusical is biggest grossing show or film in history
Voices
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
voicesMaybe the new app will make it more normal to reach out to strangers
Arts and Entertainment
Salmond told a Scottish television chat show in 2001that he would also sit in front of a mirror and say things like,
tvCelebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
News
i100
Life and Style
food + drink
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

Business Analyst/ Project Manager - Financial Services

£60000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client in the Financial...

English Secondary Teacher

£110 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Cambridge: English Teacher needed for ...

Year 3/4 Teacher - Immediate Start

Negotiable: Randstad Education Chester: Year 3/4 Teacher Needed in Flintshire ...

English Teacher

£85 - £125 per day: Randstad Education Chester: Job Opportunity for Secondary ...

Day In a Page

Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits