THE TREATMENT of Zimbabwean asylum seekers has underlined the inhuman way Britain treats refugees. For months, while top government figures denounced Zimbabwe's human rights record, Zimbabwean asylum seekers were sent back to torture and death. Now, after an intense campaign and under huge pressure, the government says it will temporarily halt deportations to Zimbabwe.
But it will continue to send back people fleeing war and repression. The government will continue to send Kurdish people back to Iraq and Turkey. It will continue to call people from Somalia or Sri Lanka 'bogus' refugees. Until Monday members of the Zimbabwean opposition were still routinely booted out of Britain and sent back to a desperate fate.
'The Home Office instinctively wants to keep people out. There is a real possibility that people's lives are at risk now,' says Nick Hardwick, chief executive of the Refugee Council. Alan Wilkinson, a director of the Zimbabwe Association, which offers support to asylum seekers, describes the system of detention and deportation as 'brutal'. He says, 'We have had seven cases of Zimbabweans deported from London who promised to get in touch with us on their return, but they have disappeared without a trace.'
There is one group of Zimbabweans who could always look forward to decent treatment when they arrived in Britain-whites. White applicants were almost never detained on arrival here and were almost always granted exceptional leave to remain.