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By Tendai Maphosa
London
17 March 2008

British immigration authorities have informed hundreds of failed Zimbabwean asylum seekers that they are to be deported back to Zimbabwe. Tendai Maphosa has the details in this report from London.

The British Home Office has sent letters to about 500 Zimbabwean asylum seekers telling them they had exhausted their rights of appeal and saying they should make plans to return home. The letters said immigration authorities expect to enforce deportations to Zimbabwe shortly where, the letter said, the deportees face no general risk of persecution.

Sarah Harland of the Zimbabwe Association, a non-governmental organization that assists Zimbabwean asylum seekers, expressed dismay at the government's action.

"It appears to be an intimidatory measure, it seems to be intended to frighten people into going back of their own [voluntarily], but the curious thing about it is that the legal process is still ongoing and the Home Office had said they would not enforce the return of failed asylum seekers until the [court] case was finished," said Harland.

Late last year, Harland said, the Refugee Legal Centre applied to the Court of Appeal asking to overturn an earlier ruling by the Asylum and Immigration Tribunal, which had decided in favor of deportation in the case of one specific asylum seeker. That appeal is still ongoing.

Harland also expressed concern over what she described as a seemingly haphazard way of informing people of the government's intentions.

"From the information that we have got so far, at least two of the people have been sent the letters have got cases that are ongoing and they fit into the categories of people recognized to be at risk," she said. "Another of the people who got a letter contacted their own lawyer; that lawyer contacted the Home Office and was told by the case worker that the letter had been sent out by mistake.

Harland said that during the last deportations to Zimbabwe from November 2004 to July 2005, a significant proportion of those forcibly returned reported that they had suffered persecution, mistreatment or imprisonment.

The Home Office did not respond to VOA requests for a statement.

The British government has been a vocal critic of Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe and his government and has repeatedly spoken out against human rights abuses there.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown refused to attend the European Union/African Union Summit in Lisbon last year because Mr. Mugabe was to be there.

Human rights activists have accused the British government of inconsistency in criticizing the Zimbabwe government and yet being willing to send asylum seekers back home to where many say they face persecution.

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