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The cruel reality of anti-refugee policy

This article is over 17 years, 4 months old
ONE MAN hurled back to civil war and the destruction after the tsunami. Another returned to torture chambers.
Issue 1937

ONE MAN hurled back to civil war and the destruction after the tsunami. Another returned to torture chambers.

Those are two cases this week showing what anti-refugee policy means. While politicians compete to see who can make the most inflammatory speeches against refugees, the reality is inhuman treatment.

“The British government is threatening to send me back to Zimbabwe. And that could be a death sentence. I am appealing to everyone to help save me and to win justice in my case.”

Those words from inside Campsfield detention centre in Oxfordshire come from Leonard R (his full name cannot be given for fear of reprisals against his family).

He is a refugee who fled what everyone agrees is a repressive regime. He is also an example of the sort of person that Tory leader Michael Howard wants to keep out of Britain.

“We are appalled by the brutality and cruelty of Mugabe’s Zimbabwean regime,” said Howard last year.

But he won’t be speaking up for Leonard—who was scheduled to be sent back to Zimbabwe last weekend until last-minute legal action blocked the move.

New Labour is also guilty of the same stinking hypocrisy—denouncing Mugabe while condemning activists who oppose him to jail or murder.

Leonard told Socialist Worker, “My life is in danger if I am sent back to Zimbabwe. When I was a teacher there I joined the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) opposition party and helped them promote rallies.

“A news report on the state-run Zimbabwean broadcasting corporation featured a pupil who said teachers were spreading MDC propaganda at my school. I then became the subject of investigation and intimidation by Mugabe’s infamous Central Intelligence Organisation.

“That is why I am here. I left at the beginning of 2001 before the inevitable action from the state—and that means beatings, jail, torture or even death.

“Now I am training to be a mathematics teacher at Saddleworth school in Oldham. I can do a useful job for the children and the community.”

Leonard’s partner, Nyembezi, joined a protest outside the home office in London last weekend. She says, “Leonard just wants to be allowed to get on with his training. He has a degree in mathematics and could help fill a vacancy in a subject where there is a shortage of teachers.”

She added, “I appeal to the British government to release Leonard and to allow him to stay in safety here. It cannot be right to send him back to such a fate.”

Leonard is one of many Zimbabweans who faces a return to Mugabe’s torturers.

Meanwhile, in another case that shows the cruelty of the asylum system, a Sri Lankan refugee living in Highgate, north London, who lost 36 relatives in the tsunami, has been told by immigration officials that he is to be deported.

Mohammed Sajahaan Athambawa, known as Saj, left Sri Lanka over three years ago, fleeing from the civil war that made life unbearable for him. His home village, on the east coast of Sri Lanka, was one of the areas worst hit by the wave.

Some 4,000 people are estimated to have died in the locality. Saj lost 36 members of his family in the disaster, including aunts, uncles, brothers-in-law and cousins. His younger sister is presumed dead.

Saj had been given permission to stay here temporarily, but he was not granted permanent asylum. Ever since his claim was turned down he has had the threat of deportation hanging over him.

Saj recently spoke to the Camden branch of Respect about his case. He has addressed meetings of local trade unionists.

Together with other friends and supporters, they have launched a petition opposing the home office move.

To help the Zimbaweans’ campaign, contact the Zimbabwe Community Campaign to Defend Asylum Seekers. E-mail [email protected]

or phone 07960 126 028.

To help Saj’s campaign, phone 07855 789 431, or send messages of support to Z Kara Rajani,

88-90 Highgate High Street, London N6 5HX.


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