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"( ) The Secretary of State shall, before commencement of this section, publish regulations under paragraph 2(1)(d) of Schedule 3 to the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002 (c. 41) (withholding and withdrawal of support) disapplying paragraph 1 of that Schedule in cases of citizens of Zimbabwe to whom that paragraph would otherwise apply by virtue of the provisions of that Schedule other than paragraphs 4, 5 and 7."
The noble Baroness said: My Lords, in the debate on Report on 18 May, the noble Lord, Lord Bassam of Brighton, said (at col. 711 of the Official Report) that the Government's position was that it would be inappropriate to return Zimbabwean asylum seekers to Zimbabwe at this time. Earlier, he said that should an appeal fail for that individual,
I refer the Minister to the debate on Zimbabwe in another place on 1 July for a true picture of how dangerous life can be in Zimbabwe today for anyone returning after having sought asylum in the UK. We know of at least one such case where a man was seized by the CIO as he got off the aeroplane having been identified by another Zimbabwean whom he had known while seeking asylum who was a CIO spy.
How can that be squared with the present requirement that those Zimbabweans who have appealed and failed must, after NASS has withdrawn both accommodation and support, apply for voluntary repatriation and must leave the UK at once? I recognise that there cannot be a blanket provision simply on the grounds of their nationality to exempt all Zimbabwean asylum seekers, but I hope that the noble Lord will recognise that in a number of cases the quality of both the legal advice and the country information on which decisions to refuse asylum have been based in the past have been seriously flawed. According to the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture, some well founded claims have been arbitrarily disbelieved.
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We are toldI am very glad to hear itthat things will change. That is why I believe it to be necessary in the Bill to provide that Zimbabwean asylum seekers shall be treated as a special case so that the Secretary of State can be expected to exercise his right to offer asylum, whether on the ground of discretionary relief or humanitarian protection. My amendment will, I hope, have that effect. It seems to me that the clear intent of the original Schedule 2(1)(d) and 2(2) is precisely to enable the Secretary of State to disapply the withdrawal of support in certain circumstances.
There are cogent reasons why the Zimbabwean asylum seekers, like those from Iraq, should be recognised as a special case, warranting special treatment. There is no doubt that Zimbabwe is a country where violence, torture and death are endemic threats for those who are perceived as threats to the regime. Those who have sought asylum here are, for the most part, people with professional qualificationsteachers, doctors, engineers and computer expertsand some brave political opponents of the regime, who come here, often with great difficulty, believing that Britain, with its long history of giving refuge, will take them in, allow them to maintain their skills and to be useful to the country that has taken them in. They are a vital part of the professional infrastructure that Zimbabwe once had and will need again.
It is not their fault that they are not allowed to work. I understand that they may not be eligible to do community work either. They cannot go home and here they face destitution under the present law, or they must work illegally. A headmaster is working as a cleaner and a senior civil servant is working as a bus driver. We are talking about a limited number of people, since the visa regime of 2002 was imposed, but they should be a significant group when Zimbabwe has to be rebuilt.
Later he included that in a list of 10 actions designed, he said, to keep Zimbabweans alive. He did not mention that that meant barely alive and in a state of destitution which they cannot remedy because, despite their own wish to do so, they are not allowed to work. Later he spoke of our readiness to help to rebuild Zimbabwe. These are some of the very people who should play a major part in that.
As it is, once they are evicted from their accommodation they have no address and dare not exist. I know a charity which offered to help some particularly tragic cases, but it could not do so because the people had vanished, at best to sleep on some anonymous floorgenuine asylum seekers do not have mobile phones. It is unworthy of our country that this should happen to courageous men and women who trusted us. When we are told that the Home Office works closely with other departments and when joined-up thinking is the watch word of the Government, I do not understand how the Secretary of
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State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs can speak as he did, I am sure in good faith, while the Home Secretary is not prepared to exercise the discretionary right, which a House of Commons committee has urged him to do. We are not talking of thousands of people, but of a significant and potentially valuable group who will be only too glad to serve the country in some way but are instead being driven into destitution.
HMG are obsessed with their desire not to play into Mugabe's hands by enabling him to say that we are acting like a former colonial power. They need to remember that the people of Zimbabwe do not think like that. They expect us to behave with decency and humanity and to help them in one of the few areas where we can do so. They look to us to remember them. They fear being forgotten and their instinct has been to turn for help to a country with which they have many natural links through common, educational, sporting and legal systems for a start.
How do HMG think that the people of Zimbabwe will feel when the present asylum seekers return home to rebuild the country and their experience of us has been enforced destitution? I very much hope that the Government will be able to accept my amendment. It is very small and is designed to meet a specific and unique situation. All that is needed is for the Secretary of State to exercise his power to grant a temporary right to remain in the UK with its concomitant rights to accommodation and support for a relatively small number of people, asylum seekersnot of course the crooks of whom we have recently heardin a situation which is finite. I beg to move.
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