· By RAY FLEMING THE obtuseness shown yesterday by Charles Clarke, the UK's Home Secretary, over the continued deportation of failed asylum seekers to Zimbabwe was bad enough. But Tony Blair's statement that “halting all deportations would send a signal round the world that Britain is open for business even for failed asylum seekers” made matters very much worse. Of course, it may be the case that some of the those facing deportation from Britain cannot prove that if they were sent back they would face arrest or harrassment; but can Mr Clarke prove that they would not be persecuted by the brutal police of Robert Maugabe's lawless land? Surely, the present circumstances, as tens of thousands of Zimbabweans are quite literally having their homes destroyed as they live in them and face an uncertain future, argue for a stay of execution for those facing deportation? The numbers are not great. There are apparently 116 Zimbabweans waiting to be returned to their country after having failed to convince Home Office officials that they have a good reason for wanting to remain in Britain; in the last 15 months about 270 Zimbabweans have been granted asylum. So there is hardly a flood of refugees. The most curious feature of the Home Office's policy is that until last November there had been a ban on the deportation of Zimbabweans in force for two years. Why was this lifted? It cannot have been because the situation in Zimbabwe was improving. In fact it has got steadily worse. The Home Office claims there is no evidence of ill-treatment of those forced to return; this is contested by human rights organisations operating in Zimbabwe and by the Anglican and Catholic churches there. A dossier on imprisonment and torture suffered by repatriated Zimbabweans has been prepared and provided to Downing Street. Immigration and asylum issues are never easy to resolve. But in this case common sense would seem to dictate that there is, at the very least, a case for delaying action until there is a change for the better in the situation in Zimbabwe.

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