Church leaders concerned asylum seekers face axe

kenneth_clarkeLONDON - African and British church leaders say they are angered by plans by Britain to deport failed asylum seekers. Britain's justice minister, Kenneth Clarke, (Pictured) wants to end repeated challenges to decisions to turn down claims for asylum seekers and last-minute deportation orders.

Critics of the action argue it could mean tens of thousands of asylum seekers and immigrants will no longer receive legal aid.

“Cutting the legal aid budget puts already vulnerable people at greater risk of being returned to dangerous situations,” Rachel Lampard, the public issues head at the Methodist Church, said. “We recognise that the government wants to make budget savings, but this should only be done once we are confident that people will not be denied justice as a result.”

The Rev. Qobi Mayisa, coordinator of the Council of Zimbabwean Christian Leaders UK, said, “This is a sad development. There is going to be a tremendous build- up of anger in the Zimbabwean community in the UK.”

Asked how he felt about a team of Britain’s Home Office officials travelling to Zimbabwe to see if it is now safe to return failed asylum seekers to Harare, Mayisa said: “If Zimbabwe is a safe place for us to return to, why then are there sanctions against Mugabe and so many of his top followers?”

A tenth of the 900 million British pound (US$1.4 billion) civil legal aid budget was spent on asylum and immigration cases in 2009.

Donna Covey, chief executive of the Refugee Council, told ENInews: “Further slashing legal aid for asylum seekers will result in people being wrongly refused protection here and returned to countries where their lives will be in danger. This is unacceptable.”

Rabbi Jonathan Romain of the Maidenhead Synagogue in Berkshire, England, told ENInews, “Even though the economic reasons behind the move are perfectly understandable, it is still very worrying, and a very regrettable development for a society that has always prided itself on being a haven for those oppressed abroad. At best it will save taxpayers’ money, but at worst it will cost lives.”

Next weekend, leaders of 54 Zimbabwean organizations in Britain will meet under the umbrella of the Zimbabwe Diaspora Focus group, where new regulations to deport failed asylum seekers will be discussed.

Oxford University history professor Terence Ranger, a member of the Britain-Zimbabwe Society asylum experts’ panel, said, “I had hoped that with the Liberal Democrats represented in government asylum seekers might be treated with more justice. Alas, the Refugee Legal Centre, which has done heroic work, has been forced to close down. And now it’s planned to slash legal aid for asylum appeals.” ENI

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