Leading Article: Inhumanity, hypocrisy, and a policy that shames Britain

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The Independent Online

The Government's policy for removing asylum-seekers is under the spotlight as never before. We report today chilling allegations of brutality by immigration officers against deportees. And yesterday the Home Office asked the Law Lords to overturn a Court of Appeal ruling concerning the fate of three asylum-seekers from Darfur.

The Asylum and Immigration Tribunal had originally decreed that the three men should be sent back to the Sudanese capital, Khartoum, because there was no likelihood that they would be persecuted on their return. That ruling was subsequently struck down by the Appeal Court, which ruled that, although it agreed with the Home Office that there was no risk of persecution, terrible conditions in the refugee camps around the capital made it inhumane to order their resettlement there.

The Appeal Court was wrong about the risk of persecution. Compelling testimony gathered by the Aegis Trust charity demonstrates that Darfuri asylum-seekers who have been returned to Khartoum have been tortured by the Sudanese security services. The Immigration Minister, Liam Byrne, has ordered a review of UK deportation policy in response to this evidence. But that has not stopped the Government's challenge to the Court of Appeal ruling going ahead. And the Home Office has pointed out that the act of instituting a review is no guarantee that policy will change.

It would be an outrage if the Law Lords were to rule in the Home Office's favour. But the fact that the case has even been brought is already a terrible indictment of the Government. Last week, Gordon Brown stood up at the Labour Party conference in Bournemouth and condemned the Sudanese government for its treatment of the people of Darfur. But, at the same time, his ministers were trying to deliver refugees back into the clutches of that very regime. It is impossible to believe that Mr Brown does not know what is going in his Government, so his refusal to intervene must be taken as evidence that he agrees with what the Home Office is doing. Hypocrisy of this sort is one of the reasons people are so disillusioned with party politics.

No one disputes the facts. Since 2003, some 85,000 people have been killed in Darfur as part of a policy of ethnic cleansing by the Sudanese government. A further 200,000 have died from hunger and disease. More than two million have fled their homes. Khartoum's policy has been described as "genocidal" by the former US Secretary of State, Colin Powell. And yet our own Government persists in attempting to send people back to this nightmare. It is an insult to our intelligence for ministers to argue that Darfuris can be safely deported to Khartoum at the same time as they are condemning the Sudanese government for causing a humanitarian crisis.

It is by no means just Sudanese refugees who are on the receiving end of the Government's hypocrisy. A number of Burmese refugees face the threat of deportation, even as the ruling junta represses brutally mass protests in that country. Last month Mr Brown refused to attend an EU-African summit unless the Zimbabwean President, Robert Mugabe, is barred from attending. But Mr Brown's Home Office has been blithely sending refugees back to Zimbabwe. Asylum-seekers have also been deported to Iraq.

What lies behind this inhumanity? The Government wants to boost the deportation figures so it can win plaudits from the right-wing press for being "tough" on matters of immigration. The treatment of those who have fled here under threat of death in their home country, or merely in search of a better life, shames our government. It also shames Britain.