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Last Updated: Wednesday, 29 June, 2005, 18:28 GMT 19:28 UK
Cardinal urges Zimbabwe rethink
Protest in London
Protesters in London have been voicing opposition to President Mugabe
The head of the Catholic church in England and Wales has joined calls for the deportation of failed Zimbabwean asylum seekers to be halted.

Cardinal Cormac Murphy O'Connor said it was a "gross injustice" to send them back to the crisis-hit country.

His statement followed Anglican leader Rowan Williams' branding of the deportations "immoral" on Tuesday.

The Home Office said hunger strikes continued in detention centres, with 57 Zimbabweans refusing food on Tuesday.

Support groups put the numbers involved closer to 100.

A moratorium on returns should be observed while the international community attempts to get to grips with a fast-deteriorating situation in Zimbabwe
Cardinal Cormac Murphy O'Connor

Pressure has been mounting in recent days for the Home Office call a halt to the deportations as increasing evidence of human rights abuses in the troubled African state comes to light.

Recent moves in Zimbabwe to demolish informal settlements - which the UN says has left 275,000 people homeless - have drawn objections from the Foreign Office.

Politicians from all side have led calls for a rethink, and scores of Zimbabwean detainees have been holding a no-food hunger strike since last week in protest at the deportations.

The Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Murphy O'Connor, said the Zimbabwean government seemed to be conducting a "systematic campaign of terror" against its own citizens.

It would be "at odds with Britain's humanitarian traditions" to continue with the removals, he said.

Hunger strikes

"At the very least, a moratorium on returns should be observed while the international community attempts to get to grips with a fast-deteriorating situation in Zimbabwe."

He also said he welcomed indications that the government was reviewing the question.

The Home Office said representations in a number of cases were being heard, but that overall the policy of removing failed asylum seekers back to Zimbabwe had not changed.

Decisions would be made on a case by case basis, a spokesman added.

Newspaper reports claim deportations have been put on hold until after the G8 summit next week.

This was dismissed the prime minister's spokesman on Wednesday.

Mother-to-be released

"The policy hasn't changed. It is still the government's policy to consider individual applications on an individual basis," he said.

Support group the Zimbabwe Association said it had received reports the hunger strike was holding strong.

One pregnant woman who was being held in one detention centre had been released on health grounds, said the group's co-ordinator Sarah Harland.

She added that a number of bail applications would be made on behalf of the detainees on Friday.




BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
See settlements being flattened in Zimabawe



SEE ALSO:
Asylum returns immoral - Williams
28 Jun 05 |  UK Politics


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