Tough Time for Zimbabwean Asylum Seekers

Thousands of Zimbabweans fleeing President Mugabe’s misrule and harsh economic conditions at home are about to find their way to the United Kingdom blocked after the British government last week moved to reduce the chances of asylum- seekers making successful claims in that country.

The British home secretary, David Blunkett, last Friday scrapped the “exceptional leave to remain” (ELR) arrangement that allowed unsuccessful asylum applicants to stay in Britain until their cases were heard.

The decision means that thousands of migrants, among them Zimbabweans, Iraqis, and Somalis who were given the right to live temporarily in Britain, could now be sent back home.

The British government announced that it would replace ELR with a new status called “humanitarian protection,” which the government said would be much tighter and apply only to claimants who proved they could not safely return home.
The Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) foreign affairs spokesman, Moses Mzila Ndlovu, said the MDC was concerned by the latest developments. “We will see victimized people having nowhere to seek refuge,” Ndlovu said. “We hope the British will reverse this decision and allow victims of political violence to stay, especially Zimbabweans.”

The British Home Office said the move to annul ELR was prompted by sharp increases in the number of people applying for asylum. In the first nine months of 2002, 62,480 asylum claims were made compared to 53,660 for 2001, and the statistics suggest the total for 2002 will be the highest on record.

The British immigration minister, Beverley Hughes, said ELR was being abused, and that it encouraged economic migrants “to apply for asylum in the U.K. in the belief that they will be given ELR when their asylum claim is rejected.”

Thousands of Zimbabweans are on the list of people on ELR. The British Home Office said there has been a surge in asylum applications from Zimbabwe, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Somalia.

Habib Rahman of the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants said the British government’s decision was “shocking.” Others agreed. Leigh Daynes of Refugee Action said: “The abolition of ELR is deeply disturbing. As global political events and human-rights abuses continue to uproot innocent people, the government must extend protection to those who need it.”