While we are waiting to see what the reality of the ‘Big Society’ might look like here in the UK – and while we are absorbing the implications of the Wikileaks deluge of Iraq documentation (as well as wondering if Liverpool will be bottom of the Premier League by the end of this afternoon), it is good to hear that all is going well again in Zimbabwe.

Last week (14 October, to be precise) Immigration Minister Damian Green made a written statement in Parliament. He made the case that the time is now right to send asylum seekers back because conditions in Zimbabwe have improved so much since the formation of a Government of National Unity in 2009 between President Robert Mugabe (Zanu-PF) and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai (Movement for Democratic Change). This is what Green said:

I am announcing today our intention to end the current suspension of enforced returns of failed asylum seekers to Zimbabwe. There are some Zimbabweans who continue to have a well-founded fear of persecution; we continue to grant protection to those people. As with any other nationality, every case is considered on its individual merits and against the background of the latest available country information from a wide range of reliable sources including international organisations, non-governmental organisations and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.The courts have found that not all Zimbabweans are in need of international protection and given the improved situation on the ground in Zimbabwe since the formation of the inclusive Government in 2009, the time is now right to bring our policy on returns of failed Zimbabwean asylum seekers into line with that on every other country. This will mean that failed asylum seekers from Zimbabwe will from now on be treated in exactly the same way as failed asylum seekers of all other countries when it comes to enforcing returns.

Those found not to be in need of protection have always been expected to return home. We prefer these individuals to return voluntarily and many hundreds have done so. It is in everyone’s interest for people to return to Zimbabwe and use their skills to support themselves and help rebuild the country. The Government support this process and are in active dialogue with Zimbabweans to explore how this process can be further assisted.

It remains open to Zimbabweans to return home voluntarily under one of the assisted voluntary return (AVR) programmes which are available for individuals of all nationalities. There are three programmes available under which all returnees receive support in acquiring travel documentation, flight costs to their country of origin and onward domestic transport, airport assistance at departure and arrival airports and, for those eligible, up to £1,500 worth of reintegration assistance per person including a £500 relocation grant on departure for immediate resettlement needs and, once home, a range of reintegration options which are delivered “in kind”.

The Immigration and Asylum Chamber of the Unified Tribunal Service (IAC) will be hearing in the near future a further country guidance case on general safety of return to Zimbabwe which we expect to reflect the improvements in Zimbabwe since the previous country guidance case was decided in 2008. Therefore, although there is no reason why Zimbabweans who both we, and the courts, have found not to be in need of protection should not now be removed, we will not enforce the first returns until the IAC has delivered its determination. Those who have no right to remain in the UK, and who chose not to return voluntarily, will then face enforced return, in exactly the same way as failed asylum seekers of all other countries.

This change in asylum policy which I have announced today does not reflect any change in our categorical opposition to human rights abuses in Zimbabwe. We will continue to call, both bilaterally and with our international partners, for an end to all such abuses and the restoration of internationally accepted human rights standards in Zimbabwe.

So, there is still no rule of law. Violence is still being used against ordinary people. The forthcoming referendum on the new Constitution looks likely to be followed by a new election. And reports we get every day from contacts on the ground in Zimbabwe tell of fear, threat and intimidation. Just because the US Dollar has allowed a degree of economic stability should not be interpreted as an ‘improvement’ in the overall situation in the country.

Consider the following few facts and be grateful for the ‘improvements’:

  • The Bishops of Manicaland and Harare have been out of Zimbabwe for a couple of weeks because they were threatened with assassination. One has returned – against advice from within Zimbabwe – but has been given emergency contacts with diplomats in case of trouble. (If someone turns up to shoot you, do you ask him to wait while you phone an embassy?)
  • Court rulings in favour of the Province of Central Africa in respect of legal status, appropriation of assets and use of buildings belonging to the Province are ignored by the Police who claim to have orders ‘from above’ which overrule the court rulings.
  • Police intimidation and violence against ordinary people who choose not to leave the legitimate Anglican Church in favour of the utterly corrupt (and ‘excommunicated’) Nolbert Kunonga – now self-appointed ‘Archbishop of Zimbabwe’ and unrecognised by any other Anglican anywhere!
  • Incursions into other dioceses by the deposed bishops, Kunonga and Jakazi, backed by police and intimidatory in the extreme.
  • Harrassment and abuse of returned (failed) asylum seekers from the UK.

Well, all of that is clearly of little relevance to the ideological needs of the coalition government in the UK to get shot of as many asylum seekers as possible in as short a time as possible.

OK, sarcasm aside, at least let’s be honest about what is going on and why. If it is for economic, political or ideological reasons, let’s admit it. But, don’t let’s pretend that Zimbabwe is a safe place to be returned to – especially from the old colonialist enemy and fount of all evil, the UK.

Given that I am one of those who fundamentally agreed with Morgan Tsvangarai that Zimbabwean expats in the UK need to go back as soon as possible in order to help re-build their country and take responsibility for establishing their democracy, I don’t write this lightly. We shall await the ruling of the Immigration and Asylum Chamber of the Unified Tribunal Service with both interest and concern – especially as the Minister seemed to know the likely outcome four days before the court even met.