Zimbabwean asylum seekers who have been campaigning against deportation have won a major victory in their fight to overturn New Labour’s racist asylum policy.
An immigration appeals tribunal ruled last week that a man who had been refused asylum could not be deported back to Zimbabwe because he was likely to face ill treatment at the hands of Robert Mugabe’s regime.
The ruling is intended to serve as a guide for all Zimbabwean asylum cases and is based on a claim which the court found to be “fraudulent”. It means that all deportations to Zimbabwe should now be stopped.
The victory followed a hunger strike by more than 100 Zimbabwean asylum seekers and a series of protests in which the Refugee Council and trade unionists joined asylum seekers in a united campaign.
Regina Gwebu, one of the asylum seekers who has been the organising protests, told Socialist Worker, “This is a big victory for the Zimbabwean community. It’s vindicated us.
“Asylum seekers have not been fighting as much as we should have done in the past. People felt alone. But the hunger strikes and protests were a new beginning for us.
“Now we know that if we fight others will support us. We got so much support from ordinary people. The negative feeling towards asylum seekers comes from the government.”
Campaigners have urged home secretary Charles Clarke to listen to the tribunal and rethink the policy of mass deportations of asylum seekers.
“The ruling is sensible and humane,” said Maeve Sherlock, chief executive of the Refugee Council. “We hope also that the government will understand that the dangers faced by people being forcibly returned to Zimbabwe are also faced by those removed to many other countries.”
However Clarke has no intention of granting asylum even to the many hundreds of Zimbabweans affected by the ruling. And he is likely to try and overturn the ruling.
The high court had placed a ban on all deportations during the hearings. But the home office displayed complete contempt for the law and continued to try and deport people to Zimbabwe.
On several occasions campaigners succeeded in having flights stopped at the last minute and getting detainees released.
Even after last week’s judgement, hundreds of Zimbabweans remain banned from working in Britain because the home office continues to refuse to grant them asylum.
The government prefers to leave them in limbo and hunger rather than concede that anyone has a genuine right to asylum.
This is not just in order to placate racists who might make a fuss about Labour being “soft” on asylum.
The New Labour hard line is also intended to break any resistance to its policy of “managed migration”.
This means that only those invited into the country are to be welcomed, provided they work for cheap wages and without access to education, health and welfare benefits.
Campaigners understand that the fight is far from over and that the courts alone are not able to break the racism of New Labour’s policy.
“The fight is going to go on,” says Regina. “We have renewed confidence and we know now that fighting does get results. We heard the trade unionists and the Refugee Council shouting ‘refugees are welcome here’ on our protests. We know we can change things.”