Zimbabwe Detainees ‘Should Be Released,’ Says Charity

A mother and her child walk through what once was her bedroom and is now burning after her house was set on fire by Zimbabwe police

A mother and her child walk through what once was her bedroom and is now burning after her house was set on fire by Zimbabwe police at Porta farm in Harare on June 30. (Photo: STR / AFP-Getty Images)

As the hunger strike by Zimbabwean asylum seekers entered its tenth day today [July 1], the charity Bail for Immigration Detainees (B.I.D.) has called on the government to immediately release all Zimbabwean nationals from British Immigration Removal Centers. If they are not released, B.I.D. is urging detainees to exercise their right to challenge their detention by making a bail application.

More than 40 Zimbabwean asylum seekers in British detention centers are on hunger strike protesting plans by the British government to deport them back to Zimbabwe. The asylum seekers say they will be tortured and killed on return.

In a letter to the home secretary, Charles Clarke, B.I.D. has urged the government to release detainees immediately, to ensure that powers of detention are not misused.

The prime minister has refused to officially suspend forced removals, but the press is reporting an unofficial halt at least until after the Group of Eight summit. The failure to issue a transparent and official policy means that detained Zimbabweans are in legal limbo — if there were an official suspension of removals, then the government would have to release them from detention. As it is, more than 100 people remain locked up.

“The government has the power to use immigration detention only for as short a period as necessary and where removal is imminent — if there is no transparent policy on removals then detention is arbitrary and therefore arguably unlawful,” said Sarah Cutler, policy officer.

Many of the detained Zimbabweans do not have legal representatives, so B.I.D. is providing free advice and information to those who have no option but to represent themselves in bail hearings.

“All detainees are entitled to apply for bail, and at the hearing the Home Office must justify why detention is necessary and demonstrate that removal is going to take place quickly.

“B.I.D. believes that if challenged, in many cases the use of detention would not stand up to scrutiny — we are encouraging Zimbabweans in detention to apply for bail themselves if they cannot find a legal representative to do so,” said Zoe Stevens, project manager at B.I.D..

B.I.D. is preparing evidence for Zimbabweans to use in bail applications to the Asylum and Immigration Tribunal. Detainees are due to prepare their applications this week and will represent themselves in the bail hearings that will be set for next week.

B.I.D. is an independent charity that prepares and presents free bail applications on behalf of those detained under Immigration Act powers. B.I.D. also carries out information and research work on the policy and practice of immigration detention inBritain. B.I.D. has offices in London, Portsmouth (for Haslar detention center) and Oxford (for Campsfield detention center) and makes bail applications for those held at any of the detention centers in Britain.

“We also support people to make their own applications for release on bail, without a legal representative using our Notebook on Bail,” said Sarah Cutler.

In 2001 B.I.D. was awarded the Liberty/Justice Human Rights Award.

[Striking Zimbabwean asylum seekers, who have been protesting forced deportations, suspended their hunger strike on July 11 pending a hearing by the High Court on Aug. 4.

A ban on the deportation of Zimbabweans was lifted in November 2004. According to the BBC, 95 Zimbabweans were forcibly removed from the U.K. between January and March. More than 100 others are scheduled for removal. The detainees fear torture and death at the hands of President Robert Mugabe’s “police” if returned.]