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Zimbabwe does the UK Home Office know something we dont?

Things are once again looking bad in Zimbabwe. Despite a burst of optimism after Morgan Tsvangirai and Robert Mugabe formed the ‘Inclusive Government’, it doesn’t seem to be working out. Unless, it seems, you’re the UK Home Office, who appear to have a much rosier view of the situation in the country.

The UN’s chief torture investigator Manfred Nowak, is said to be fuming after being kicked out of Harare – despite reportedly having an invitation from Prime Minister Tsvangirai. According to the BBC, Nowak said that his treatment shows that some parts of the government do not want him to examine the current conditions of torture in the country.

The UN, reports the BBC, says that “Allegations that MDC supporters and human rights defenders have been arrested, harassed and intimidated during the past few days highlight the urgency of objective fact-finding.”

And an Amnesty International statement yesterday warned that the country may be sliding back into political violence, with arrests of civil society leaders and reports of intimidation of political opponents by ZANU-PF supporters in rural areas. In particular, Amnesty reported increased threats of violence in Mashonaland East and Central provinces against known supporters of the MDC.

The UK Home office, however, takes a radically different view. In a written ministerial statement from Phil Woolas today, the Home Office notes the changes brought about by the Inclusive Government, and that “there have been some positive changes in the situation in Zimbabwe over the past six months.”

Failing to mention that Morgan Tsvangiari is pursuing a policy of non-cooperation with the Inclusive Government, boycotting cabinet to try to force Mugabe’s hand, Mr Woolas notes “improvements in the economy, schools and the availability of basic commodities” and concludes “In response to this changed situation some Zimbabweans in the UK are considering returning home to help rebuild their country. I consider we should be doing more to help them.”

This seems to be more than a little out of step with what other Zimbabwe-observers are noting about the country. The sinister bit of the statement is yet to come, though:

“The UK Border Agency will therefore be starting work over the autumn on a process aimed at normalising our returns policy to Zimbabwe, moving towards resuming enforced returns progressively as and when the political situation develops.”

These will be frightening words to any Zimbabwean asylum-seekers living in the UK, who are probably following developments in their country very closely. Maybe they read the Daily Telegraph’s report that “An MDC official was seized from his home in Harare earlier this week, while another kidnapping was averted near the MDC's Harare headquarters when bystanders chased the assailants away”. Maybe they read what Amnesty had to say, or the warnings of the UN.

I doubt very much that they’ve seen the information on which the Phil Woolas has based his view on the situation in Zimbabwe. Does the UK Home Office know something we don’t? Or could it be that they’ve got it plain wrong?

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Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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