Zimbabwean failed asylum seekers have short reprieve from deportation

15 Aug 2005

Special Report:

This report has been updated regularly since 23 June 2005. Following the 04 August 1005 court hearing (see below) and the suspension of deportations until October, this special report will no longer be updated and has been placed in the news archive on 15 August 05.

Summary

On Thursday, 04 August, the judge adjourned his hearing of four cases brought by the Refugee Legal Centre on behalf of Zimbabwean failed asylum seekers until October pending a ruling by the new asylum and immigration tribunal on whether Zimbabwe is a "safe" country. The enforced removal of the failed asylum seekers to Zimbabwe was also postponed by the Home Office until October.

A court hearing held on 04 August, was to hear evidence about whether it is safe to return the failed asylum seekers to Zimbabwe. Reports have indicated that those sent back face harassment and torture.

A solidarity vigil was held outside the High Court from 17.00 on 03 August until the Court decision was announced on Thursday 04 August. The Refugee Council who attended the vigil in large numbers were calling for a complete halt to all deportations to Zimbabwe until the situation there is demonstrably safe.

Zimbabwean failed asylum seekers had agreed to come off their hunger strike temporarily until the High Court rules on whether the Home Office can forcibly deport them.

On Friday, 15 July, the Home Office officially suspended the deportation of any failed Zimbabwean asylum seeker until the court hearing. Up until this time, it was believed that an unofficial halt was in place.

The latest (links to news articles below)

On Thursday, 04 August, Justice Collins adjourned cases that had been brought by lawyers representing Zimbabwean failed asylum seekers. The lawyers were seeking to demonstrate that Zimbabweans returning to Mugabe's regime faced danger because of the fact that they claimed asylum in the UK. Justice Collins "stayed" the cases while the Asylum and Immigration Tribunal (AIT) looks at new evidence of the current situation in Zimbabwe.

The Home Office has decided to halt further deportations in order to allow "sufficient time to give full and careful consideration to additional material presented by the Refugee Legal Centre". The Home Office also agreed to consider releasing 30 Zimbabweans in detention awaiting being sent back to Harare.

On Wednesday, 03 August, the Refugee Council joined the United Network of Detained Zimbabweans (UNDZ) and other supporters outside the High Court. The vigil started at outside the Royal Courts of Justice, London, at 17.00 and will remain until the decision of the High Court hearing is announced on Thursday, 04 August.

The Home Office, officially suspended deportation of failed Zimbabwean asylum seekers on Friday, 15 July. It follows the further intervention of a high court judge who, according to the Guardian, urged the Home Secretary, Charles Clarke, to change policy on behalf of the failed asylum seekers held in detention. Judge Ouseley made his statement at a case where he heard a plea by a Zimbabwean, who cannot be removed because his case is under judicial review.

The Times, 12 July, reported that Zimbabwean asylum-seekers have temporarily called off their hunger strike. They will wait to hear what the High Court rules on 04 August and whether the Home Office can forcibly deport them. However, the 55 detainees at Harmondsworth Immigration Removal Centre in West London will go back on the hunger strike if any are deported before refugee groups had a chance to begin their legal challenge.

Two hunger strikers are being treated in hospital. Whitehall officials said that they will not attempt to remove any of them until after the 04 August court hearing. The legal battle began after the Times revealed that some deportees had been abused since being sent back

On 10 July, the French Press Agency reported that a Zimbabwean hunger striker has been taken to a hospital near London after refusing food for 36 days. A second hunger striker, who has not been named, was also taken to hospital Saturday, the man's solicitor said. The government confirmed that they were in hospital but said there were no concerns over their health.

The Evening Standard on 08 July and Express Newspapers on 09 July reported that the hunger strike had grown. Ofthe 99 remaining detainees, 37 are on hunger strike (4 more than on Monday 04 July)

Express Newspapers further reported that 19 Zimbabweans have been freed from custody in recent days, including opposition politician Crispin Kulinji, 36, who was bailed days after he was due to be deported.

Despite a recent high court ruling and speculation that deportations have been unofficially halted, a Home Office spokeswoman said: "The policy has not changed. Cases are considered on their individual merits."

On Thursday, 07 July, the BBC, Times and the Daily Mail reported that a senior judge had said it could be "arguable" that it was unsafe to send back failed asylum seekers to Zimbabwe. Mr Justice Collins delivered his statement following a Refugee Legal Council (RLC) representative told him there was evidence to suggest that asylum seekers were in danger in Zimbabwe just because they had claimed asylum in the UK.

The judge stressed that he was not saying that was the case, but he said the RLC should have the opportunity to present its evidence to the Home Secretary, Charles Clarke. The judge directed that a court hearing over the issue should be held on 04 August and failed asylum seekers should not be removed "until this is sorted out".

The Daily Mail reported on Wednesday, 06 July, that about 50 Zimbabweans mounting a legal challenge to avoid deportation. A mass bail application will be presented to the Birmingham and London Asylum Immigration Tribunals. They also reported that a hunger striker facing deportation won a last-minute reprieve just before he was due to board a plane back to Zimbabwe.

The Times, who broke the story, continued its reporting on Monday, 04 July and Tuesday, 05 July with an article on how one recently deported asylum seeker was beaten and tortured by Mugabe's police. Their coverage resulted in a number of MPs pressuring the Home Secretary, Charles Clarke, to answer their concerns before the G8. Clarke had previously given assurances that deported Zimbabwean asylum-seekers would come to no harm.

On Monday, 04 July, the Guardian reported how a Zimbabwean woman, who was a failed asylum seeker being held at Yarl's Wood detention centre, had secured a high court injunction stopping her removal a half an hour before her flight was due to take of on Saturday night, 02 July. Prior to her lawyer winning the injunction, a number of Zimbabwean women barricaded themselves in her room as she refused to accompany immigration officers back to what she called "the lion's den".

On Thursday, 30 Jun, the Times reported that detainees have said that staff in several detention centres were threatening and bullying them. Alleged ringleaders of the protest have apparently been moved into solitary confinement. The Times also revealed that immigration officers were told on Monday night, 27 June, to halt deportations.

On Monday, 27 June, the Home Secretary, Charles Clarke, told the House of Commons that he would meet with the Refugee Council and UNHCR. He also agreed to study any new evidence on behalf of the failed asylum-seekers from Zimbabwe, more than 100 of whom are being currently detained at removal centres around Britain.

The Times also revealed that 3 claimants were deported in secret over the weekend of June 25/26 and their lawyers have said that they do not know what happened to them on their arrival in Harare.

Last week, the Home Office had said 116 Zimbabwean asylum seekers were in detention awaiting possible deportation. Fifty-seven are now on hunger strike at detention centres to protest against the lifting of a ban that prevented their deportation.

Their cases have been highlighted across the national press with many groups calling for the government to intervene and not send the failed asylum seekers back. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams and the Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor have both been very critical of the government stance over the issue. Dr Williams told the BBC's Today programme: "I think it's deeply immoral to send people back there."

More than 15,000 Zimbabweans fled to Britain in the four years up to 2004, though only a few hundred have been granted asylum. In the first three months of this year, 95 Zimbabweans were forcibly removed.

British policy on Zimbabwe, and the issue of asylum, has been put under the spotlight by the recent policy of Zimbabwe's President, Robert Mugabe, of clearing up shanty towns and street traders, which the UN says has left 275,000 people homeless.

The plight of the detainees has resulted in massive public interest with all national newspapers covering the story. It was originally reported by the Times, who continue to give it daily coverage.

Refugee Council response:

Read the Refugee Council's press release supporting the vigil.

Read the initial statements from Maeve Sherlock, Chief Executive of the Refugee Council.
Maeve Sherlock was also interviewed on Sky News on Tuesday morning, 28 June 2005.

News Coverage so far:

04-08 August 2005

Refugee Council: Zimbabwean asylum seekers allowed to stay pending country policy review
BBC: Zimbabwe removals still on hold
Guardian:Zimbabweans allowed to stay in 'safe' country policy review

Refugee Council: Refugee Council's vigil supporting Zimbabwean Asylum seekers

Guardian: Home Office halts Zimbabwe deportations

Times: Asylum-seekers end hunger strike
Daily Mail: Zimbabweans 'suspend' hunger strike

08-11 July 2005

Online links to stories featured in the above report are not available.

Thursday, 07 2005

BBC: Halt Zimbabwe removals says judge
Times: Chaos over expulsions of Zimbabwe refugees
Daily Mail: Call over Zimbabwe asylum seekers

Wednsday, 06 2005

Mail: Zimbabweans planning mass bail bid

Tuesday, 05 2005

Times: Proof of deportees' torture puts Clarke under pressure

Monday, 04 July 2005

Guardian: Zimbabwean deportation halted at last minute
Times: Beaten and tortured, the asylum-seeker sent back to Mugabe's police by Britain

Thursday, 30 June 2005

Times: Hunger strikers 'bullied' by centre staff

Wednesday, 29 June 2005

Times: Zimbabwe deportations halted until G8 summit

Tuesday, 28 June 2005

Times: Britain agrees to second chance for Mugabe refugees

BBC: Asylum returns immoral - Williams

Monday, 27 June 2005

BBC: Blair defends UK Zimbabwe policy

Guardian: Blair rules out deportation freeze

Mirror: Save the Mugabe Refugees

Saturday, 25 June & Sunday, 26 June 2005

Times: Clarke in row over Mugabe exiles

Independent: Clarke urged not to deport Zimbabweans

Daily Mail:Halt Zimbabwe deportations: Lib Dem

Observer: Church hits at Zimbabwe deportations

Thursday, 23 June 2005

Times: Don't send us back to Zimbabwe, hunger strikers beg Britain