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Last Updated: Friday, 14 October 2005, 17:49 GMT 18:49 UK
Zimbabwean wins asylum test case
Anti-Mugabe protester outside Zimbabwe Embassy, London
Refugees say they could be persecuted in Zimbabwe
A Zimbabwean has won his battle against deportation in a test case ruling that puts in doubt the policy of returning failed asylum seekers to the country.

The unnamed man would be at risk of harm if he were sent back, the Asylum and Immigration Tribunal has ruled.

The Home Office said it did not believe the judgement meant it now "as a matter of law" had to allow other Zimbabwean failed asylum seekers to remain.

Shadow home secretary David Davis said the ruling was "absolutely" right.

Tribunal chairman Mark Ockelton said the man, known only as 'AA', had a "well-founded fear of persecution" if he was returned, even though his asylum claim had been "fraudulent" and his dealings with UK authorities "deliberately dishonest".

The very fact that he had spent time in the UK would put him at risk in his home country, he said.

"The fact that the appellant made a false claim, so generating the risk which would otherwise not have existed, does not alter the fact that the real risk of serious harm exists now," the ruling said.

'Not unsafe'

Following the ruling, a Home Office spokeswoman said: "We do not believe that this judgement requires us, as a matter of law, to grant refugee status or any other form of leave to remain to failed Zimbabwean asylum seekers."

The tribunal had not found that Zimbabwe was unsafe generally for failed asylum seekers, or for those who returned voluntarily, she said.

We will continue to provide protection through the asylum system to Zimbabweans who genuinely have a well-founded fear of persecution
Home Office spokeswoman
"The tribunal found only that the particular way we were enforcing returns of failed Zimbabwean asylum seekers from the UK to Harare airport put them at risk," the spokeswoman said.

"We will not be enforcing returns to Zimbabwe whilst we work to resolve the concerns identified by the tribunal about the way we do so."

The Home Office would continue to expect Zimbabwean failed asylum seekers to be returned once those concerns were resolved, she said.

"We will continue to provide protection through the asylum system to Zimbabweans who genuinely have a well-founded fear of persecution.

"But failed asylum seekers whose claims have been found on appeal to be false are not in this position."

The Home Office was also considering appealing the judgement, she said.

'Lack of interest'

Mr Ockelton said the tribunal could have taken a different view if failed asylum seekers returning to Zimbabwe were not so readily identified by UK officials.

Evidence from the home secretary suggested deportees were escorted onto planes and their papers handed over by UK officials to the air crew.

"We find the respondent's [the home secretary] lack of interest in the process by which individuals that he returns to Zimbabwe are received by the Zimbabwean authorities rather alarming," Mr Ockelton said.

Coming to Britain and claiming sanctuary here is regarded as treason by the Mugabe regime
Tim Finch
Refugee Council

Immigration minister Tony McNulty earlier said the ruling put the government's whole asylum policy in question.

"The absolute sanctity of the 1951 convention at the root of the asylum system is that each and every individual case is decided on its own terms within its own circumstances," he said.

"This judgement drives an entire coach and horses through that and leaves the entire system open to abuse."

An Amnesty International spokeswoman said it hoped the Home Office would "recognise today's judgement when making future decisions about the claims of Zimbabwean asylum seekers".

Tim Finch, from the Refugee Council, welcomed the ruling and said the judge could not have made his decision clearer.

"Coming to Britain and claiming sanctuary here is regarded as treason by the Mugabe regime," he added.

Shadow home secretary David Davis said the decision was made necessary by the "abject failure" of the government's policy on Zimbabwe.

Hunger strikes

The test case ruling was also welcomed by fellow Zimbabwean Timbah Mghubeli, who sought asylum in Britain in 2001 after his work for the opposition Movement for Democratic Change led him to clash with the ruling Zanu-PF party.

He told BBC Radio Five Live the threat of being returned to Zimbabwe had led him to go on hunger strike.

"At one time I was in detention, I thought of starving myself to death because I knew even if I were to go to there, I will die.

"I'd rather go as a corpse because there's no-one who can persecute a corpse, can torture a corpse."

Protest outside the High Court
Campaigners were 'delighted' with the ruling

The tribunal also criticised the Home Office's research into conditions in Zimbabwe and for the lack of evidence uncovered by a fact-finding delegation sent by the government in September.

A ban on deportations to Zimbabwe, which had been in force for two years, was lifted last November.

Zimbabwean asylum seekers staged hunger strikes and public protests at immigration centres earlier this year.

Some 12,000 people from Zimbabwe claimed asylum in the UK between 2002 and 2004.

Failed asylum seekers give their reaction to the ruling

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