There's been a spat in the UK over the last few months over the issue of deportations to Zimbabwe. Despite accusing the Mugabe regime of serious human rights abuses, the British government insists that Zimbabwe is safe enough for failed asylum seekers to be deported there. One of them took them to court over this, seeking an order enforcing the Refugee Convention's bar on refoulement. Today, they won, with the Asylum and Immigration Tribunal ruling that even though the applicant had made a false claim, and been "fraudulent" and "deliberately dishonest", their presence in the UK had given rise to a well-founded fear of persecution if they were returned, and thus they should be allowed to stay. The Asylum and Immigration Tribunal also castigated the government in its ruling for showing an alarming lack of interest in how deportees were treated on their return:
Evidence from the Home Secretary suggested deportees were escorted onto planes and their papers handed over by UK officials to the air crew.
"At that point, it appeared to us that the respondent (the Home Secretary) ceased to have any very clear interest in what happened.
"We find the respondent's lack of interest in the process by which individuals that he returns to Zimbabwe are received by the Zimbabwean authorities rather alarming."
While the government had subsequently sent a "fact-finding" mission to Zimbabwe, the court stopped just short of calling it a whitewash:
"The way in which the investigation was conducted, and the way in which the results were presented to us, gives rise to the possibility - we say no more than that - that the investigators may have had existing policy in mind rather more than the discovery of new facts.
"Despite the facilities available to the investigation and the level at which it was conducted, it reveals nothing of the actual process which returned asylum seekers go through on their arrival at Harare airport."
(What actually happens is that returnees are treated as traitors by the Mugabe regime, and tend to be turned over immediately to the secret police. I'd call that "persecution"...)
The decision may influence a current judicial review of the entire policy of deportations to Zimbabwe, but it also spells trouble for Blair's proposed anti-terrorism legislation. The courts have signalled firmly that they will not relax the ban on refoulement and allow people to be deported to persecution, torture and death. I guess that the rules haven't changed after all...