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Last Updated: Wednesday, 6 July, 2005, 20:56 GMT 21:56 UK
Halt Zimbabwe removals says judge
Demolition scene in Zimbabwe
The Zimbabwe government is destroying 'illegal' housing
A senior UK judge has urged the government to halt all removals of failed asylum seekers to Zimbabwe pending a further High Court hearing.

The call comes after a Refugee Legal Council representative said there was evidence to suggest asylum seekers faced being abused in Zimbabwe.

They were in danger because they had claimed asylum in the UK, he said.

Mr Justice Collins said this made it "arguable" that it was unsafe to send back failed asylum seekers.

He stressed he was not saying it was dangerous, but that the Refugee Legal Council (RLC) should have the chance to put its evidence to Home Secretary Charles Clarke.

Hunger strikes

The judge directed that the issue should go to a court hearing on 4 August.

In the meantime, failed asylum seekers should not be removed "until this is sorted out", he suggested.

There is no question but the situation in Zimbabwe gives rise to real concern about the safety of those being returned to it
Mr Justice Collins

Home Office lawyers said Mr Clarke had no evidence of any systematic abuse of failed asylum seekers who had been returned to Zimbabwe.

Mr Justice Collins, a specialist in immigration law, said: "There is no question but the situation in Zimbabwe gives rise to real concern about the safety of those being returned to it."

'Half-wit'

The judge also condemned the deportation of a Zimbabwean woman which went ahead despite the removal order being cancelled after the woman applied for a High Court review.

The fax the Home Office sent to Securicor to cancel the order was handled by a temporary member of staff who did not realise its importance.

Charles Clarke
Mr Clarke says cases are looked at individually

Mr Justice Collins said: "How anyone could fail to appreciate the significance of a fax from the Home Office telling them removal directions had been cancelled frankly escapes me.

"Even a half-wit would understand. All I can say is that I sincerely hope nothing like this ever happens again."

His comments come after the archbishop of Canterbury said it would be "deeply immoral" to deport failed asylum seekers to Zimbabwe.

In a statement to Parliament on Wednesday, Mr Clarke said 33 failed Zimbabwean asylum seekers were on hunger strike, although campaigners say it is many more.

In total, 106 failed Zimbabwean asylum seekers are being detained pending removal from the country.

Mr Clarke said the government's assessment of the situation in Zimbabwe was being constantly monitored and the UK was pressing Zimbabwe to end human rights abuses.

Removals halted?

On asylum seekers, he said: "Each case is considered thoroughly before removal proceeds and any new information or representations are examined accordingly."

The Home Office says it will now carefully consider the judge's comments but there has so far been no policy change.

But a Home Office official told an immigration tribunal in London in a separate hearing that returns to Zimbabwe had been halted already.

After the hearing, the official, Peter Armstrong, told a reporter: "That is information I have picked up in the office. It is in light of recent developments in Zimbabwe. There has been no official announcement."

Liberal Democrat spokesman Mark Oaten said the government must listen to the court.

"It is indefensible to continue with deportations in the face of the evidence that individuals are being mistreated following removal from the UK," he said.

Conservative deputy leader Michael Ancram earlier asked why the government was trying "to send Zimbabwean asylum seekers in fear of their lives, back to the bloodstained hands of Mugabe and his thugs".




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