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Last Updated: Wednesday, 12 April 2006, 13:47 GMT 14:47 UK
Zimbabweans lose asylum hearing
Protest outside the High Court
Campaigners fear ministers put removal targets before safety
The home secretary has won his appeal against a ruling which prevented the Home Office deporting failed Zimbabwean asylum-seekers back to Africa.

The Court of Appeal ruled that the cases must be reconsidered by the Asylum and Immigration Tribunal (AIT).

A tribunal blocked removals to Harare in October 2005, saying they faced interrogation by the security services.

Charles Clarke welcomed Wednesday's decision, saying removals were "fundamental" to the asylum system.

But the Refugee Council said it was clear Zimbabwe was "a very dangerous place".

'Absurd situation'

Mr Clarke said he welcomed the opportunity "to put the facts again to the AIT on the treatment of both enforced and voluntary returnees".

"The removal of failed asylum seekers is fundamental to the integrity of our asylum system".

Tim Finch
We are now in the absurd situation where the issue is pinging back and forth between higher and lower courts
Tim Finch, Refugee Council

"The government remains deeply concerned about the political and economic crisis in Zimbabwe, and continues to press for an end to abuses.

"I cannot emphasise strongly enough that we would not enforce the return of a failed asylum seeker to Zimbabwe if we believed that they were at real risk of mistreatment."

Refugee Council spokesman Tim Finch called on the government to restore the moratorium on returning failed asylum seekers to Zimbabwe until a definitive decision had been taken by the court.

"We are now in the absurd situation where the issue is pinging back and forth between higher and lower courts.

"A sort of legal hall of mirrors where we don't really get any clarity, yet it is clear that Zimbabwe is a very dangerous place," he said.

The Court of Appeal judges ruled that the AIT had "erred in law" last October when it ruled against removals to Zimbabwe.

The original decision said that Zimbabweans, who can only be identified as AA and LK, would be at risk of harm if they were returned to President Robert Mugabe's regime.

Bitter battles

The government immediately challenged the decision, saying it had a right to remove unfounded asylum claimants.

Campaigners claimed ministers had put removal targets ahead of safety.

The judgement in the Court of Appeal comes after more than a year of bitter legal battles between Zimbabwean asylum seekers and ministers.

Some 15,000 Zimbabweans sought asylum between 2000 and 2005, with a few hundred granted refugee status. Approximately 300 Zimbabweans were returned to the country, not all forcibly, before the courts halted removals last October.

Immigration officials began to remove Zimbabwean nationals who had been refused asylum in late 2004 - prompting a hunger strike during the summer of 2005 as 140 people were held in detention.

Campaigners accused the Home Office of not properly considering cases or the political situation in Zimbabwe, leading to a major test case in October.

Cases in limbo

And in a blow to ministers, the asylum and immigration tribunal ruled Zimbabwe could not be considered a "safe country".

An unnamed Zimbabwean could not be deported, even though his asylum claim was entirely without merit, because the regime of Robert Mugabe could decide he was a spy and torture him, the tribunal found.

In effect this meant the very act of claiming asylum in the UK endangered Zimbabweans, the tribunal ruled, meaning the government was obliged to protect them.

The Home Office launched an appeal, leaving thousands of cases in limbo.

Campaigners and charities have since complained that many of those affected have had no support and have been living on hand-outs from well-wishers.

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