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Glenda Jackson (Hampstead and Highgate) (Lab):
Is it not the case that in the past there have been individuals about whom the judgment was made that it was safe for them to return to their country, but in fact we never saw or heard of them again? Surely it should cause my right hon. Friend some disquiet that Zimbabwe seems so willing to take asylum seekers back because he must know, as I do, of countries that categorically refuse to accept former asylum seekers,
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even though their asylum cases in this country have failed. Surely we should reimpose the moratorium until we can be absolutely certain that if we send people back they will be safe, because the protestations of the Zimbabwe Government are certainly not worth the air with which they are furnished.
Mr. Clarke: The judgments that are made about the safety of individuals, which involve a substantial process, are not dependent on assurances from the Zimbabwe Government in any respect. Nor is it the case that we have any evidence whatsoever of people being returned to Zimbabwe or elsewhere who have been subject to the kind of treatment that my hon. Friend suggests.
Peter Bottomley (Worthing, West) (Con): Can the Home Secretary say whether his Foreign Office sources can confirm that an Opposition Member of Parliament in Zimbabwe who lost his temper and was sentenced to a year's hard labour has lost half his body weight, which would take even people on hunger strike some time to achieve? Will he also confirm that five months ago his Department answered a question from me on 25 January by refusing to confirm whether Crispen Kulinji had experienced either abduction or torture? Does the Home Office accept that he had to use false information to get his Zimbabwean passport? Will the Secretary of State kindly sort out that case, as well as considering representations made in other cases?
Mr. Chris Mullin (Sunderland, South) (Lab): Does my right hon. Friend agree that the contribution of the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis) was as shameless a performance as we have so far seen in this Parliament, given that his party has just fought a general election on the basis that all asylum seekers should be sent home as soon as possible?
Although it is right that we should be extremely cautious when returning failed asylum seekers to countries such as Zimbabwe, is my right hon. Friend aware that many Zimbabweans who came here as economic refugees turned into political refugees retrospectively? For example, in the west midlands a while ago, an enterprise manufacturing fake MDC cards was discovered. How can it be right for people found in possession of fake MDC cards not to be returned to their country?
My hon. Friend is entirely correct. I would not descend to the party political language that he used about the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis), so all I shall say is that
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there is some validity in his remarks. On my hon. Friend's more general point, it is certainly the case that people have demonstrably tried to evade the system in the way in which he described for no political reason whatsoever. It is critically important for us to attack the nature of the Zimbabwe regime and various aspects of how it operates, but it is also critically important to maintain an immigration and asylum system that is fair and is seen to be fair.
Angus Robertson (Moray) (SNP): When will Government rhetoric against the Mugabe regime be matched by meaningful action? What will it take to get a suspension of deportations? Does not the Government's position as outlined today undermine co-operation with other EU member states to ensure that Zimbabweans are not sent back into harm's way?
Mr. Clarke: On the last point, the position does not undermine co-operation at all. I am sorry not to give the sort of graphic answer that the hon. Gentleman wants, but the way to proceed is by international co-operation through the G8 and other arenas to make change happen in Zimbabwe. We must follow that courseI see no alternative. The Government are pursuing such action energetically.
Lynne Jones (Birmingham, Selly Oak) (Lab): My right hon. Friend, in his statement and his replies to my hon. Friends the Members for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn) and for Hampstead and Highgate (Glenda Jackson), referred to the lack of substantiated reports of abuse of returnees. I have a letter from the Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Nationality confirming that the Government have received uncorroborated reports of at least one disappearance and beating. What has to happen to get the reports substantiated, given that the Minister also says that the Government do not routinely monitor the treatment of returnees? Is not it time that we followed up what happens to people when they return to Zimbabwe if the Government insist on continuing to deport them, despite the UNHCR advising against it?
Mr. Clarke: Any report, whether substantiated or uncorroborated, is rightly examined carefully. We must make judgments on the basis of our intelligence about what is proceeding. However, I make the serious point that some individuals from all countries are trying to enter this country by not telling the truth about their circumstances. The immigration and appeals procedure is designed to test that. The question can legitimately be asked, as my hon. Friend did: are we correctly going through the individual story in each case to establish the position? Nevertheless, the procedure that I set out is the right one to follow.
Mr. Andrew Mackay (Bracknell) (Con):
Presumably, when the Government lifted the suspension of the enforced removal of asylum seekers to Zimbabwe last November, there was only one good reason for doing itthere were many illegitimate cases and false claims. If that is the case, why did not the Home Secretary answer the question of my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis) and tell us how many such cases led him to reach that conclusion?
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Mr. Clarke: The true answer is that I did not reply to the question because I did not hear it clearly enough. Indeed, I mumbled to my hon. Friend the Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Nationality to ask him what exactly the question was. I cannot give the number that the shadow Home Secretary wants now, but I shall write to him setting out our assessment of the position. The statistics are difficult to quantify because, by definition, people have come into the country illegally and we do not know the exact numbers. However, I shall write a letter to the right hon. Gentleman and put a copy in the Library to set out the position as clearly as I can.
Hugh Bayley (City of York) (Lab): The humanitarian crisis in Zimbabwe is very real, but it is increasingly clear that condemnation of Mugabe and his regime, whether by our Government or other hon. Members, is like water off a duck's back. The only way in which to secure political change in Zimbabwe is through other African countries applying pressure. Does my right hon. Friend agree that if we adopted a different approach to refugee applications from Zimbabwe, compared with those from other African countries, we would be less likely to build that team support, with African Governments putting pressure on Mugabe, which we need for an end to the humanitarian crisis?
Mr. Clarke: My hon. Friend is right. Indeed, one of the motives for changing the policy last November was precisely to acknowledge that although Zimbabwe had unique aspects, similar issues arose in other countries and we needed a uniform approach to all countries.
My hon. Friend has a record of campaigning on matters relating to democracy in southern Africa that goes back to the time when we first knew each other too many years ago. He is especially well placed to say that the way to make progress is for African countries, as well as EU-G8 countries, to engage in making the case for democracy in Zimbabwe.
Dr. Evan Harris (Oxford, West and Abingdon) (LD): The Home Secretary will be aware that a significant number of Zimbabweans are on hunger strike at Campsfield house in my constituency, including the man referred to by the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey), to whom we owe a debt of gratitude for raising his and other cases. Does the Home Secretary understand that detention for such long periods while general policy and individual cases are decided is very unsatisfactory and results in many people being left in a miserable situation? I have just heard that an 18-year-old Turkish asylum seeker committed suicide by hanging at Campsfield last night. Does not that give the Home Secretary pause? Are we not detaining too many people for too long while general policy and individual cases are sorted out?
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