Britain can deport failed Zim-babwean asylum-seekers despite the repression and hardship in their homeland, an immigration court ruled on Wednesday in a verdict expected to clear the way for many deportations.
The Asylum and Immigration Tribunal reversed its ruling last year that a Zimbabwean man whose asylum application had been rejected should not be sent back home because Zimbabwe was too dangerous. That verdict stopped the government from deporting any Zimbabweans whose claims for refugee status had been rejected.
But the Court of Appeal in October ordered the tribunal to reconsider, and the tribunal reversed its ruling on Wednesday.
The panel, led by Justice Henry Hodge, said those who returned to Zimbabwe would not face an automatic risk of persecution, so deportation could be considered on a case-by-case basis.
The six-page ruling argued that deportees linked with Zimbabwean opposition parties or with military or criminal records could suffer a greater risk of facing abuse in police interrogation, so their deportation orders might justifiably be overruled.
"Each case must be considered on its particular facts," it said.
Human rights groups say police and the military in Zimbabwe make widespread use of violence and torture. They accuse President Robert Mugabe's government of using torture, rape, murder, death threats, abductions and detention against political opponents.
Prime Minister Tony Blair has been sharply critical of Mugabe, but Blair's government wants the right to return those whose asylum claims are rejected. Immigration is a highly charged issue in Britain, and officials are anxious to demonstrate they are cracking down on people who are here illegally.
The government welcomed the decision, saying that deporting failed asylum-seekers was key to keeping the system fair.
The Home Office, which oversees immigration, said forced deportations of some of the 7,000 failed Zimbabwean asylum-seekers living in Britain could resume within weeks.
"We recognize that there are Zimbabweans who are in genuine fear of persecution and that is why we have granted them asylum, but it is only right that we remove those who seek to abuse our hospitality," Immigration Minister Liam Byrne said.
Last year, lawyers for the refugee whose case halted forced deportations argued that those who had sought asylum in Britain were considered traitors and spies by the Mugabe regime.
Outside the immigration court, Zimbabwean immigrants said they feared for those who would be sent home.
"I was expecting something better from the decision here that would allow us to sleep peacefully," said Mafungasei Maikokera, 25. "Instead, we have nightmares."