The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, has described the Government’s decision to continue sending failed asylum-seekers back to unsafe countries as “deeply immoral” and said that he was “amazed” there had been no change of mind on Zimbabwe.
The head of the Church of England went on to describe the whole asylum system as “deeply unsatisfactory” and said it was not working. He said: “The fact is, we do have lists of countries that are relatively safe to send people back to. You can’t simply address it on individual terms.
“There are some places where if people are sent back, the risks are just statistically so unacceptably high that it is, I think, deeply immoral to send people back there.
“I am amazed that Zimbabwe hasn’t been reviewed in this light.”
The Archbishop also urged Zimbabwe’s neighbours, especially South Africa, to “rally round” and put pressure on President Robert Mugabe.
Dr Williams was speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme the day after Tony Blair told his monthly Downing Street press conference that the Government was sticking by a decision taken last November to resume deportations to Zimbabwe.
In spite of international outrage at Mr Mugabe’s campaign of destruction of homes, Mr Blair and Charles Clarke, the Home Secretary, insisted that each asylum case from Zimbabwe had to be dealt with on an individual basis. There are concerns that a halt to all deportations could be exploited by those trying to get round official controls on immigration.
The Times revealed this morning that more than 100 failed asylum seekers who claimed they were at risk from Mr Mugabe’s regime will be allowed to stay in Britain until new appeals are examined. In defiance of rising pressure to stop the expulsions, three claimants were deported at the weekend and their lawyers do not know what became of them in Harare.
Dozens of Zimbabweans in detention centres across the UK have gone on hunger strike. David Davis, the Shadow Home Secreary, has called the Government’s Zimbabwe policy a “miserable failure”.
The Church of England and other religious leaders have been deeply concerned for more than a year about events in Zimbabwe but have been publicly muted out of concerns that “megaphone diplomacy” would hazard the work of Christian aid agencies in the field. The Mothers’ Union is among the Anglican charities active in Zimbabwe.
But the concern about the fate of deported asylum seekers is so great that it has prompted Anglican leaders to break their silence. The Bishop of Dorchester, the Right Rev Colin Fletcher and the Roman Catholic Bishop of Lancaster, Patrick O’Donoghue, yesterday called for an end to deportations.
Dr Williams said he had visited a number of detention centres where failed asylum seekers were being held pending deportation. He said that methods used to pick people up with “knocks on the door at five in the morning” were “deeply traumatising for people who don’t know what is going on”.
He said: “You are often dealing with people who have been here for many years and have roots in the country and are suddenly, without warning, taken into the system. I think there is a lot in the working of it which is deeply unsatisfactory at the moment, which feels inhuman to the people involved.
“They don’t accept the justice of it, even those who recognise they have got a problem legally.”
Dr Williams was speaking the day before he leads a delegation of British, African and American church leaders to meet Gordon Brown, the Chancellor, at Downing Street before hosting a pre-G8 summit on international poverty and development issues at Lambeth Palace.
He said that anti-poverty campaigners were “pushing at an open door” when trying to persuade the Government of the merits of debt relief, though some other administrations had some way to go on the issue.
He said: “I think, in a sense, we need to be more angry about the situation than we are.
“The fact of 30,000 avoidable deaths every day is something which ought to be intolerable for us to live with.”
There could be “cautious optimism” on debt relief, he said. “Trade reform is a bigger and longer issue and what we expect to see, I think, is a long-term commitment, not a quick and magical solution.
“The agricultural subsidy question is precisely the hard nut that has to be cracked here, and there won’t be a level playing field unless we address that. Certainly the States has a lot of work to do catching up on that one.”