“For Pity's Sake, Let Them Stay!” So ran one newspaper headline last month, in response to the hunger strike by scores of Zimbabwean asylum seekers in British detention centres.
The headline appeared not in Socialist Worker, nor even the Daily Mirror, but in the notoriously anti-refugee Daily Mail.
The Mail was joined by the Tories in calling for the suspension of all deportations to Zimbabwe, where Robert Mugabe’s dictatorship is engaged in a massive and murderous house demolition programme.
On one level, the right wing is shedding crocodile tears for Zimbabwean refugees and using their plight to attack the Mugabe regime for reasons that have little or nothing to do with human rights.
At another level, however, they are responding to the outrage of millions of people throughout Britain that the
Labour government is detaining and deporting Mugabe’s victims.
Tony Blair and his home secretary Charles Clarke argue that Zimbabwean asylum seekers who have been refused leave to remain in Britain are making false claims of persecution and can be safely returned.
Yet as MP and former Labour government minister Kate Hoey has shown, those facing forcible removal to Zimbabwe include prominent members of the opposition.
Hoey recently travelled undercover to Zimbabwe to report on Mugabe’s repression for the BBC’s Newsnight programme. She has been part of the successful campaign to temporarily suspend the deportation of Crispen Kulinji.
Crispen was an organiser for the MDC in the Zimbabwean capital, Harare, and was beaten by guards in one of Mugabe’s prisons before he fled to Britain.
The refusal of his asylum claim has exposed the inhumanity and stupidity at the heart
not only of the Blair administration’s policy on asylum seekers from Zimbabwe, but also of the whole policy of deportation.
Much has been said in recent weeks about the absurd contradiction between foreign secretary Jack Straw’s denunciations of human rights abuses in Zimbabwe and home secretary Clarke’s insistence that deportees are safe to return.
However, there are many other countries where British government policy faces both ways at once.
War-torn Afghanistan and the Democratic Republic of Congo are just two of the countries to which the foreign office advises against all but “essential travel” by British citizens, but which the home office describes as “safe” to send asylum seekers back to.
It is fear of removal to regimes such as these that has led to hundreds of hunger strikes and numerous appalling suicides, including the death of 19 year old Ranzan Kumluca from Turkey at the Campsfield detention centre in Oxfordshire two weeks ago.
Recent events in British detention centres illustrate why the plight of asylum seekers in Britain has become a major issue for the global justice movement and a focus for those protesting against the G8 in Scotland this week.
On Tuesday, anti-G8 protestors are invited to join a mass demonstration at the Dungavel detention centre, scene of the suicide of 23 year old Vietnamese asylum seeker Tung Wang last summer.
Close Down Dungavel — Refugees Welcome Here
Protest Tuesday 5 July, 11am, at Dungavel detention centre.
Transport leaves Glasgow, George Square from 9.30am, or Edinburgh, Waterloo Place at 9.30am and 11.30am