Deborah Orr: Britain is Mugabe's ally in mass murder

We should give Zimbabweans the recognition that they are all victims of a terrible outrage
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The Independent Online

Last week, Nkosilathi Ndlovu was jailed for life, after killing his girlfriend and stabbing her 12-year-old daughter. The Zimbabwean, whose application for asylum was turned down three years ago, is reported to have mounted the frenzied attack after she threatened to tip off immigration officials. The dead woman had two other children under 16. The report, in the Daily Star, emphasised that Ndlovu was "an illegal immigrant".

In April, Kenneth Siwela, also a failed asylum-seeker from Zimbabwe, was jailed for five years, after colliding with a man and his stepson while driving on the wrong side of the road at 80mph. He was working as a courier with no driving licence or insurance. "Siwela had also brought tuberculosis into the country," reported the Daily Express, "and was being treated free on the NHS as well as being granted legal aid."

Such stories are a tragedy for the victims and their relatives. But they are a nightmare for the Home Office, because they are always used to give the impression that immigration policy in Britain is "out of control". One could argue, in both of these cases, that the fact that the asylum-seekers had been driven underground may have contributed mightily to the chain of events that led to desperation and death. The Home Office, though, mindful of the fact that such arguments do not play well with the voters, does not appear to be a subscriber to such liberal-minded pieties.

On the contrary, these very cases may even have been among those which prompted the Home Office, in November, to lift a two-year ban on involuntary deportations to the former British colony. The arrangement, the department suggested, was being abused by Zimbabweans, who were coming to Britain as "economic migrants" in the knowledge that they would not be turned away.

Now, it appears, the removal of the arrangement is being abused instead by the British Government, which claims that it "would never send anyone back if we thought that their lives were in danger". Yet it turns out that there are a number of people who have been involved in opposition politics in Zimbabwe, and are scheduled to be deported back to a regime which increasingly employs political killing and torture against its people.

Pre-eminent among them is 32-year-old Crispen Kulinji, an organising secretary and election co-ordinator for Zimbabwe's main opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change. He has already been beaten and imprisoned by the Mugabe regime, and now uses a wheelchair. His deportation has been ordered, and he is on hunger strike alongside many other Zimbabweans held in British detention centres.

For now, his deportation has been delayed, after an intervention from Kate Hoey, the MP for Vauxhall. The Home Office promises that the delay will not be for long, even though there are calls from Zimbabwean and British politicians, diplomats and churchmen for the enforced deportations to end.

The situation is yet more stark now, as Mugabe has let it be known that he considers that those sent back from Britain are merely posing as failed asylum-seekers, and are really spies. Heaven knows what they would do if Kulinji, a high-profile political activist whose case is gaining worldwide coverage, returned. Yet as far as the Home Office is concerned, this is mere idle speculation. The Home Office does not dispute that Kulinji is who he says he is, and does what he says he does. Instead, it claims it has no evidence that anyone returned to Zimbabwe has come to any harm. The Home Office has, of course, no evidence to the contrary either.

Little such evidence exists, because the Mugabe dictatorship is so repressive now that it is impossible for information to flow freely out of the country. The government controls all media. The little the West does know about the situation in Zimbabwe includes the unquestionable fact that political persecution is widespread. The last month has seen organised pogroms taking place all over the country in retaliation against the urban poor, who mainly voted MDC in the last, rigged, elections.

It is estimated that between 400,000 and 1.5 million people have been driven out of the cities into rural famine and the highest concentration of HIV sufferers on the planet. To draw distinctions about the likelihood of individual political persecution when such widespread terror is being undertaken, is angels-on-the-head-of-a-pin stuff.

Yet it is not just the Home Office that seems to want to minimise the political dimension of this epic forced migration. The African Union, without batting an eyelid, takes at face value Mugabe's claim that his Murambatsvina (Drive Out The Rubbish) campaign is one that simply tackles illegal settlements - or shanty towns - because they are insanitary and criminal. Likewise, the UN, even though confirming that large parts of the nation now depend on food aid, is fighting shy of actually criticising the regime. The UN envoy, Anna Tibaijuka, currently in Zimbabwe, will herself be subjected to a tour tightly orchestrated by a government which has for years now been manipulating food aid to reward allies and punish enemies.

It is to this that we send people back, granting them asylum only if we are certain that they personally will be maimed or killed because of their political beliefs if they return. The excuse we give ourselves is that Britain will be swamped by Zimbabweans if we encourage them to come here by unilaterally recognising their plight.

The truth is that these people have nothing at all, and are likely to reach our shores in their thousands rather than their millions. Between 2000 and 2004, 15,000 Zimbabweans claimed asylum here. Perhaps if fewer had had their cases dismissed, the tragedies at the start of this piece might have been averted. Instead, they and cases like them have been used to taint Zimbabweans in the same way as Mugabe taints them, as disease carriers and criminals, unworthy of humanitarian decency.

Instead of counting our pennies, and demonising those poor starving victims who have the temerity to want to live like us, Britain could at least be giving Zimbabweans acknowledgement and recognition that they are all victims of a terrible outrage.

Instead, it is rumoured, there is a divide in the Cabinet, between a Foreign Office that finally sees what is happening in Zimbabwe, and a Home Office that will do anything to avoid such knowledge. The latter must stop making such awful denials, at least in a small way. That way is to help those who manage to escape from suffering and death, instead of sending them back to it.

By standing united with the victims of oppression, we stand against it. Right now, Britain is Mugabe's ally in mass political murder, because its immigration policy simply denies such a programme has been undertaken.