Political hot potato: Home Office refuses to disclose whether the Zimbabwean government will now issue ETD’s to non-consenting undocumented returnees

The subject of whether the Zimbabwean government has now made a U-turn from Mugabe’s previous position of refusing to accept unwilling Zimbabwean returnees without valid national passports, seems too hot to handle.

 

“A Response from the UK Government is long overdue, with stated reasons on 25 July 2018 being that, “ this is due to internal delays with our FOI process”.    It therefore remains to be seen, which if any, of the questions raised will be addressed by the Home Office in response”, was the conclusion to the recent blog post of 3 August 2018, The impact of Mnangagwa’s win upon UK based Zimbabwean asylum claimants

 

As I suspected, the Home office have refused to provide disclosure to any of the questions asked as regards whether there is now in practice an agreement between the UK and Zimbabwean government of enforcing returns of non- consenting undocumented Zimbabweans. The irksome problem for the UK government arising from their inability to enforce returns for such persons is summarized in a previous recent blog post: Is Mnangagwa’s New  Government paving the way for  UK mass removals of failed Zimbabwean Asylum Claimants ?

The Questions

The questions I posed to the Home Office on 24 June 2018 were as follows:

 

“1. Following the discussions between the UK and Zimbabwean governments in February 2018, has agreement been reached between the UK Government and the Zimbabwean Government in relation to whether the Zimbabwean authorities will agree to issue Emergency Travel Documents for non-consenting undocumented Zimbabwean returnees who are without valid national passports?

2.Are officials from the Zimbabwean Embassy attending upon and interviewing non- consenting undocumented Zimbabwean detainees who are without valid Zimbabwean passports?

3.Are telephone interviews or meetings being arranged by the Home Office between Zimbabwean Embassy officials and non-consenting undocumented Zimbabwean nationals who are without valid Zimbabwean passports?  

4.Where removals are taking place following any unpublished agreements between the UK and Zimbabwean government on repatriation or enforced returns of non-consenting undocumented Zimbabwean nationals, how many enforced removals/deportations to Zimbabwe have taken place since any such agreements with the Zimbabwean Embassy/Government?”.

 

The Home Office “Response

 

On 22 August 2018, the Home Office provided reasons why they will not disclose the requested information, https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/enforced_returns_of_non_consenti :

 

Disclosure would, or would be likely to, prejudice relations between the United Kingdom and Zimbabwe

  • “The Home Office works closely with the Zimbabwe authorities on documentation and returns and by disclosing information relating to the documentation and return of nonconsenting undocumented Zimbabwean nationals, the level of co-operation between the Home Office and these authorities could be identified”.

  • “Disclosure of the information you have requested, could demonstrate the Zimbabwean Authorities level of commitment to the United Kingdom’s programme for returns. Transparency surrounding the selected government’s commitment along with any disregard to the confidentiality of the relationship between the Home Office and the Zimbabwe authorities could influence future agreements and/or negotiations”.

 

Disclosure would, or would be likely to, prejudice the operation of the immigration controls

 

  • “In this case, release of the requested information may allow conclusions to be drawn about the level of assistance given to the Home Office by the Zimbabwe authorities and this could discourage them from co-operating with the Home Office in the future”.

  • “We have considered whether in all circumstances of the case the public interest in maintaining the exemptions outweighs the public interest in disclosing all of the information requested. We have concluded that the balance of public interest identified lies in favour of maintaining the exemptions and withholding the information, as providing details of the requested information would result in a lack of co-operation from the Zimbabwe authorities. This lack of co-operation would then directly prejudice the Home Office’s ability to return immigration offenders, foreign national offenders and maintain effective immigration controls.”

 

Conclusion

 

One needs to read between the lines.

 

It may be that the Home Office have told us enough in their response to put people on notice that once the situation in Zimbabwe stabilises, it will be back to the matter of finalising any relevant pending agreements and more.

 

The bit that is clear however is that the Home Office have an interest in returning undocumented Zimbabweans to Zimbabwe. There is no doubt about that. That is part of the Home Office policy of maintaining effective immigration control.

 

What will eventually become apparent, perhaps sooner rather than later, is whether UK immigration detention centres will start filling up rapidly with Zimbabwean nationals targeted for forcible removal.  It is therefore sustained targeted removal or deportation action on the part of the Home Office that will provide the answer as to whether the Zimbabwean authorities have now dispensed with the need for individualised consent on returns, shifting to a rubber stamping of presented travel documents requests from the Home Office.

 

Pausing for a moment however,  it is difficult to ignore the fact that the response itself sits oddly with information on the Home Office website: on the one hand there is a public refusal to address a fairly straightforward all encompassing question, ie is the Zimbabwean government now issuing emergency travel documents for undocumented Zimbabwean without valid passports regardless of whether they are willing to return home?  On the other hand, within the public domain is a regularly issued   monthly document emanating directly from the Home Office themselves which currently states that the Zimbabwean Embassy, “will only issue a travel document where the individual is returning voluntarily and has signed a disclaimer in their presence to that effect”. Country returns guide: August 2018

It’s all as clear as mud.

Is it going too far to say that currently both governments appear to be operating by stealth on the issue and methods of enforcing returns to Zimbabwe?

What affected Zimbabweans should do is protect their own position.

Submit that application. Lodge that appeal. Commence that judicial review claim.

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