HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) — Zimbabwe has received the first batch of dozens of its citizens being deported from Britain, some after staying in that country for decades and forced to leave families behind to face an uncertain future back home.
Rights groups and politicians in Britain had mounted pressure to stop the deportations, arguing that the deportees are at risk of persecution in Zimbabwe.
The first group of deported Zimbabweans was people convicted of committing crimes in Britain. The United Kingdom says it has a right to deport foreigners who commit serious crimes after they serve out their sentences. Zimbabwean authorities dismissed fears that the returnees would be persecuted.
On Thursday, 14 of the deportees arrived at the main airport in the capital, Harare, and were quickly put into waiting buses to go to a quarantine center where they will stay for 10 days before they can rejoin their families.
The first flight was supposed to carry 50 passengers classified as “foreign national offenders,” but the deportations of some were postponed because of a COVID-19 outbreak at a detention center and ongoing legal processes, said Livit Mugejo, spokesman for Zimbabwe’s ministry of foreign affairs.
“Some were isolated and could not travel. Others lodged last-minute appeals arguing that they were supposed to be deported five years ago and that their circumstances have now changed so the courts there agreed to hear their cases,” he said.
“The deportations are ongoing. It’s only that the U.K. had temporarily halted them at some point but deportations are not unique. Some of these people committed crimes such as murder and rape so the U.K. or any other country has a right to deport them,” he said. He said, as an example, more than 200 Zimbabweans were deported from neighboring South Africa and Botswana last week.
Distraught relatives waited outside the Harare airport Thursday but were not able to meet the deportees.
Although there are no exact figures, scores of thousands left Zimbabwe for the U.K., the former colonial power, to escape a biting political and economic crisis at the turn of the century. Many Zimbabweans whose bids for asylum were rejected by Britain also face deportation.
British Secretary of State for the Home Department, Priti Patel, has said Zimbabweans being deported are criminals convicted of serious offences including murder.
Patel who is also a Member of Parliament for Witham was responding to calls to abort the deportations that have been described as inhumane. In a letter to some who had made the calls, Patel said:
Dear Louise, Paul, Clive, Olivia & Gill,
You have raised concerns about the scheduled deportation of Zimbabwe nationals by charter flight on 21 July 2021, urging the cancellation of the flight. Those being detained for return on this charter are all foreign national offenders (FNOs) who have been convicted of serious offences including murder, rape, sexual offences against children, robbery and violent crime. Crimes of this nature have a devastating impact on victims and their families, as well as the wider community.
Under the UK Borders Act 2007, as Home Secretary I am required by law to issue a deportation order for a foreign national who has received a custodial sentence of at least 12 months, unless an exception applies.
My key objective is to protect the public. It is longstanding Government policy to deport Foreign National Offenders to keep our communities safe and since January 2019 we have deported 7,985 foreign criminals from the UK. Deportation of foreign criminals is subject to several exceptions, including where doing so would be a breach of a person’s European Convention on Human Rights or the UK’s obligations under the Refugee Convention. All those being deported on the flight will have been provided with the opportunity to raise claims, including asylum and human rights claims, prior to their deportation.
Individuals are only returned to their country of origin when the Home Office and, where applicable, the Courts deem it is safe to do so. By definition, they do not need protection and are not at risk on return. Each individual assessment is made against the background of the latest available country of origin information and relevant caselaw. I remain entirely unapologetic about the need to protect victims and remove dangerous foreign national offenders who have caused harm on the streets of the United Kingdom.
Yesterday, the Labour Party has voted against the Government’s legislation to speed up the removal of people with no right to be in the United Kingdom and to deter illegal entry.
Today, the Shadow Foreign Secretary suggested a Labour government would not work with the French to deter Channel crossings despite the huge risk to life as a result of criminal people smugglers.
The Shadow Home Secretary is urging me to bring back processing targets, which previously directly led to the Windrush scandal. And now, another member of Labour’s Shadow Cabinet is trying to halt a deportation flight stopping rapists, murders and child abusers from leaving our country. It is sad but perhaps not unsurprising that the Labour Party is standing on the side of the criminal minority instead of the victims affected by their heinous crimes.