HL Deb 04 November 2003 vol 654 cc100-1WA
Baroness Park of Monmouth

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What are the reasons (beyond the "political grounds" cited in the case of Thomson Dowu) for their policy, announced in January 2002, for not returning unsuccessful asylum seekers to Zimbabwe; and [HL4820]

Why the Home Secretary "deemed it safe to return unsuccessful asylum seekers to Zimbabwe" in May 2003 and now say, "there is no reason why nationals of that country cannot return there voluntarily", despite the European Union statement of 12 September 2003 on the breakdown of the rule of law and the Foreign Secretary's assessment in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office Human Rights report of 2003 that Zimbabwe, like Burma, "lives in the shadow of dictatorship or serious abuse of human rights"; and [HL4821]

What the Home Office considers to be the minimum conditions that must be in place before unsuccessful Zimbabwe asylum seekers can be safely returned; and [HL4823]

What the Home Office considers to be the minimum conditions that must be in place before unsuccessful Zimbabwe asylum seekers can be returned on a politically expedient basis; and [HL4824]

Whether the Home Office consulted or informed the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and, through that office, the British High Commission in Zimbabwe before issuing the letter of 23 May 2003 deeming it safe for unsuccessful asylum seekers to be returned to Zimbabwe; and, if not, what information formed the basis for their decision. [HL4825]

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

The suspension of removals of failed asylum seekers to Zimbabwe announced in January 2002 was in response to concerns about the serious deterioration in the situation in Zimbabwe in the build-up to the presidential election held in March that year. We did not, at that time, regard it as unsafe to return failed asylum seekers to Zimbabwe, but in view of the rapidly changing conditions we considered that it would be appropriate not to enforce returns.

The Government's position is, as it has been since January 2002, that each asylum (and human rights) claim made by a Zimbabwean national will be considered on its individual merits in accordance with our obligations under the 1951 UN Refugee Convention and the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). Each application is considered against the background of the latest available country information including that obtained from and through the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

We do of course recognise that conditions in Zimbabwe are such that there are individuals who are able to demonstrate a need for international protection. Where they meet the definition of a refugee in the 1951 convention, asylum is granted. There may also be individuals whose circumstances make them particularly vulnerable and who would engage our obligations under the ECHR. Where this is the case these individuals will be granted humanitarian protection or discretionary leave.

In the first six months of this year, we have granted asylum to 615 Zimbabweans and granted other forms of protection to over 20 others. These statistics show that we are giving protection to the significant number of people who are found to be in need of it.

If an application is refused, there will be a right of appeal to the independent appellate authorities against that decision. Should a claim be refused and any appeal be unsuccessful that means that, for that individual, return to Zimbabwe would be safe. That is why we consider it reasonable to expect an individual in that position to leave voluntarily.

However, although it would be safe for failed asylum seekers to return to Zimbabwe, our view at present is that in the wider context of the Government's position on Zimbabwe, it would be inappropriate forcibly to return them at this time.

The policy remains under continuous review.