Mugabe Threatens to Imprison Deportees From Britain

Mugabe's statement comes in the wake of letters sent out by the British Home Office informing failed Zimbabwean asylum seekers that they should now make plans to return home. (Photo: Peter MacDiarmid / AFP-Getty Images)

President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe has said that an unspecified number of Zimbabwean asylum seekers in Britain will be arrested and imprisoned when they are deported from that country.

The government-controlled Herald in Harare reported that Mugabe had "castigated those who tried to tarnish his name alleging political persecution when they were mere criminals fleeing the law, saying they should come back to atone for their ruinous actions" ("Zimbabwe: No Mercy for Fugitives From Justice - President,", March 13).

The paper said Mugabe told a ZANU-PF rally at Hama High School in Chirumhanzu rural district that some among those who had sought refuge in Britain were criminals fleeing from the law. He emphasized that once the British government deported them and they arrived in Zimbabwe, they would be arrested, and that some of the deportees would be made to pay fines while others would be imprisoned.

Speaking in the vernacular Shona language, he said:

Britain is now full of those who fled from here claiming that they were at risk of being arrested for political reasons. We do not want to arrest any of those except those who fled crimes, and those who fled crimes are not the only ones who went to Britain, no. There are so many of them that you cannot count them on your fingers, a few, those are the ones who have big cases that they fled from here. Those one, their cases will never rot. There in Britain, if they do not want to come back to admit that "Yes, I stole; I did wrong," if you are to pay a fine, then you pay a fine, if the penalty means you go to prison, then you go to prison because you stole people's money.

His statement comes in the wake of letters sent out by the Home Office informing failed Zimbabwean asylum seekers that because their applications for political asylum had failed and they had exhausted their rights of appeal, they had no other basis of stay in Britain and should now make plans to return home.

"Your claim for asylum has been refused," the letters say. "I am now writing to make sure that you know that the Border & Immigration Agency is expecting shortly to be able to enforce returns to Zimbabwe. The Asylum and Immigration Tribunal has now found that there is no general risk on return for failed asylum-seekers."

Immigration lawyer Taffy Nyawanza, writing in an article that appears on ("U.K. Poised to Resume Zimbabwe Deportations," March 10), said the timing of the British government's new position toward Zimbabwean asylum seekers was as unfortunate as it was baffling.

"This is because there is a high stakes election which is scheduled for Mar. 29, 2008. There has already been wide publicity of the rising political temperature, Mugabe's ominous threats to the opposition, as well as the beatings of opposition activists and teachers," Nyawanza said.

He added that since 2000, real or perceived opposition political party supporters in Zimbabwe have experienced more intimidation and attacks in the periods just before and after presidential and parliamentary elections:

The main Country Guidance cases, in particular S.M. (Zimbabwe), already confirm the existence of an "election cycle" with reference to the heightened risk during election periods and the period immediately after the election. The tribunal has also accepted that this is a pattern which has been followed since 2000 and that before an election, there is intimidation of real or perceived opposition supporters particularly teachers and civil servants. It also confirms that following an election, there is well-documented evidence of the post-election retribution on political opponents.

The Independent on Sunday in London ("Britain's Refugee Shame," March 16) revealed that the mass removal program that the British government is currently planning could affect more than 1,000 Zimbabweans who had sought refuge in Britain.

"The first phase of the new asylum removal drive will target 500 failed asylum-seekers from Zimbabwe living in the northwest of England. In all, more than 1,000 people are likely to be affected in the near future, out of some 7,000 Zimbabwean asylum-seekers in the U.K.," the paper said.

Legislators, civil rights groups, and organizations that represent asylum seekers and refugees have condemned the plans by the British government to resume deportations to Zimbabwe.

Following deportations of Zimbabwean opposition political party activists that took place in December, Victoria Helyar-Cardwell, the correspondence manager in Liberal Democrats leader Nick Clegg's office, told that they were doing all they could to raise the issue of deportations for Zimbabweans.

"The Liberal Democrats have long called for the halt on deportations to Zimbabwe while the political situation is monitored. The Home Office has let down Zimbabwean refugees who have fled to Britain in fear of persecution at home," she said in an e-mail on Jan. 31.

Movement for Democratic Change (United Kingdom and Ireland) interim chairperson and Simba Makoni central parliamentary candidate John Nyamande told that some failed asylum seekers had committed suicide to escape from the torture and ill-treatment they would face if deported back to Zimbabwe.

"The U.K. government must reconsider its position and give asylum seekers temporary work permits that become invalid as soon as the situation in Zimbabwe is resolved," he said by telephone earlier this month.

Donna Covey, chief executive of the Refugee Council, told The Independent on Sunday that it was unacceptable that the British government should be considering forcing asylum seekers to return to Zimbabwe.

"There has been no improvement in the human rights situation there, which remains dire," she said. "We know most Zimbabweans want to return when it is safe and to contribute to rebuilding their country. We should be offering them a form of temporary status here allowing them to work and retain their skills so they're fully equipped when the situation has improved."

Kate Hoey, Labor M.P. and chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Zimbabwe, told the same newspaper that it would be "ridiculous" if the Home Office tried to force mass returns of asylum-seekers.

"The situation in Zimbabwe is worse than ever, and to send people back in a blanket way like this is not something that anyone with an understanding of the country would support," she said.

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