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Zimbabwean asylum seekers ‘trapped’ in UK:Many stuck in limbo, unable to work or return home

By Emily Ashton and Laura May

Thousands of Zimbabwean asylum seekers in Britain are trapped in a “catch 22 situation” because they are unable to work and cannot go home, a former Home Office minister said yesterday.

 

Labour’s Fiona Mactaggart said many Zimbabweans had been denied asylum because they did not meet the “conventional standards of a well-founded fear of persecution”.

 

She told BBC Radio 4’s The World This Weekend: “But no one is planning to return them to Zimbabwe. So here they are in Britain, they aren’t allowed to work, they have nothing to live on.

 

“What I’ve been asking the government to do is to give them the right to work – nothing more, nothing less.”

 

Ms Mactaggart said there was some government support for her proposal, particularly in the Foreign Office.

 

But she said the Home Office tended to “see everything as an immigration problem” rather than see a group of Zimbabweans who needed to “maintain their self-respect” while being “trapped” in the UK.

 

Ministers are concerned that if someone not in need of asylum is found to work in Britain, this may encourage other people not at risk to also apply for asylum.

 

The Refugee Council, a charity that works with refugees and asylum seekers, said there were currently “several thousand” Zimbabweans awaiting asylum in Britain.

 

A spokesman said: “These people, who are often very well qualified, want to carry on with their lives and are unable to do so.”

 

Ms Mactaggart said Zimbabweans would have to be given some sort of status if they were granted permission to work, but said leave to remain could be temporary.

 

She said: “It’s quite clear that to return anyone to Zimbabwe now puts them at risk of starvation, cholera, murder.”

 

A Home Office spokeswoman said the government had a duty to protect asylum seekers who were at risk.

 

She said: “It’s not our policy to allow asylum seekers to work. There are exceptions for asylum seekers who have been waiting for 12 months for an asylum decision.

 

“We think that if someone who hasn’t been found to have been in need of asylum has been found to work, this may encourage people to apply for asylum despite not being at risk.”

 

Meanwhile, international aid agencies welcomed growing pressure from world leaders on Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe but said the country’s cholera-stricken people “do not have time to wait for a political solution”.

 

The World Health Organisation said close to 14,000 cases of the disease had now been reported in the country and 589 have already died.

 

Prime Minister Gordon Brown called on the international community to tell Mr Mugabe that “enough is enough”.

 

“This is now an international rather than a national emergency,” Mr Brown said in a statement.