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Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Free the Thulambo Family

Send to: UKBA and IndPublicEnquiries.

To: UK Border Agency – South Yorkshire Enforcement Unit

Fax Number: 01234 271349

To whom it may concern,

Re: The Thulambo Family HO Ref: T1099914

I am writing in relation to the case of the Thulambo Family currently detained at Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre who were scheduled to be deported to Malawi on Monday 29th December.

As their removal directions have now been deferred pending Judicial Review and in accordance with the Home Office Enforcement Instructions & Guidance Chapter 55.3, there appears no compelling reason for their continued detention.

They have no imminent travel documentation, there is no evidence of risk of absconding and there is no evidence of risk of harm to the public. I request therefore that the family’s caseworker urgently reviews the justification for the continued detention of this family and considers that as previous victims of persecution and Mrs Thulambo’s diagnosis of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, their release from detention should be arranged immediately.

Yours sincerely,

Some background (this article was written a few weeks ago and the deportation has been temporarily put off):
Home Office to Deport Zimbabwean Family who fled Mugabe's Regime.

Woman whose husband was killed for his links to the opposition has claim for asylum rejected after eight years in UK
By Jane Merrick and Emily Dugan
Sunday, 14 December 2008

A Zimbabwean woman and her two daughters who fled the Mugabe regime are to be deported from Britain despite promises by the Government to protect the country's citizens.

Priviledge Thulambo, 39, whose husband was murdered by Robert Mugabe's men, and her children are being detained in a controversial immigration centre after being seized by immigration officers on Friday.

Friends of the family said the Home Office would be guilty of "murder by the back door" by deporting the three women. They are all Zimbabwean nationals, but because they entered the UK on Malawian passports – the only way they could escape the Mugabe regime – eight years ago, they have had their claims for asylum rejected.

After spending Christmas in the grim surroundings of the Yarl's Wood detention centre, they will be forced on to a flight to Malawi on 29 December. Because of their Zimbabwean nationality they are likely to be immediately sent to their home country, where they face torture or death.

They are in this desperate situation despite UK government policy that no Zimbabwean nationals will be sent back there unless they are members of the ruling Zanu-PF party.

It follows criticism last week of the Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith, who warned cabinet colleagues of an "influx" of Zimbabwean refugees fleeing the cholera outbreak.

Mrs Thulambo and her daughters Valerie, 20, and Lorraine, 18, have spent eight years in the UK. Mrs Thulambo's Cambridge-educated husband, Macca, was killed for his links to opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai. His widow tried to leave Zimbabwe but was arrested at the airport, and later tortured and raped.

She and her daughters fled to neighbouring Malawi, where they obtained passports because of her late husband's dual nationality. Immigration officials seized Mrs Thulambo's Zimbabwean passport during their arrest at dawn on Friday.

The Liberal Democrat leader, Nick Clegg, the family's former MP, said it was wrong to assess them as Malawian for immigration purposes.

He added: "It is time this Government gets tough on Mugabe, not his victims. This case illustrates the heartless approach from a Home Office more willing to deport people to their fate rather than do the right thing. Taking such a legalistic approach to Priviledge and her daughters shows that the Home Office is seeking to find any excuse or loophole to deport Zimbabwean nationals."

Mrs Thulambo is an active member of her local church, St Mark's, in Crookes, Sheffield. Valerie was looking forward to studying law at university after passing her A-levels, friends said. According to Kirsten Heywood, a family friend: "As soon as they arrive in Malawi they will be sent back to Zimbabwe – which means death. It is terrible what the Home Office is doing. This is back-door murder."

In a letter to the Home Secretary, Mr Clegg said: "I have met Mrs Thulambo on several occasions. She has suffered severe mental and physical health problems after the persecution she and her family suffered in Zimbabwe. She has become a respected and well-liked member of the community; her daughters attended the local schools and have integrated into society and have many friends.

"I believe this is a clear-cut case for the Home Office to demonstrate clemency and leniency on Mrs Thulambo's case and on others like her."

The Home Office yesterday declined to comment on individual cases, but added: "We only seek to remove families who are in the UK unlawfully after all appeal rights have been used and the courts agree that they have no further right to remain in the UK.

"Once all appeal rights are exhausted, we would much rather that those here illegally left voluntarily. Sadly, some families choose not to do so even though they are given every opportunity to leave voluntarily. We then have a duty to enforce the law."

Meanwhile, a landmark ruling has given hope to thousands of impoverished asylum-seekers, including those from Zimbabwe, who are barred from working while the Home Office resolves their cases. The Government's refusal to allow those who are trapped in the system for long periods to seek employment has been branded unlawful by the High Court.

According to current estimates, up to 280,000 refused asylum-seekers in the UK are forced into destitution – often for years – as they wait for their cases to be processed. Now the blanket policy that bars employment for those stuck in the Home Office backlog has been declared illegal under human rights legislation.

The Government has pledged to process its backlog of several hundred thousand cases by 2011, but for many this could mean facing a life of poverty for up to a decade with no hope of a job.

There is also this 'Comment Is Free' article from The Guardian:
A Callous Immigration System

Deporting Zimbabwean asylum seekers from the UK contradicts our condemnation of Mugabe's regime

by Jeremy Sare, Saturday 27 December 2008 15.00 GM

Gordon Brown has roundly condemned Mugabe's murderous regime on several occasions. But at the same time, the government continues to deport asylum seekers back to Zimbabwe via neighbouring countries.

Priviledge Thulambo and her two daughters, Valerie and Lorraine, fled Zimbabwe in 2000, shortly after Priviledge's husband, Macca was murdered by Mugabe's Central Intelligence Organisation. She used her husband's dual nationality to obtain false documentation from Malawian authorities and flew to Britain.

The UK Border and Immigration Agency (BIA) has ruled that the family has no case for seeking asylum and after seven years in Sheffield, they will be deported to Malawi on December 29. As Zimbabwean citizens, they fully expect to be sent back to Harare, no doubt with a welcome from the local constabulary.

The judge in the Thulambo case found some inconsistencies in Priviledge's testimony and declared her to be "wholly unreliable". He cited her previous possession of a Malawian passport, through her late husband's dual status, as evidence of a "longstanding connection" to Malawi. The fact remains that Mrs Thulambo lived her life in Zimbabwe and her daughters were born and raised there.

Deporting this family is an outrage and another example of how callous the immigration authorities have grown under a Labour government. Macca Thulambo's murder is not a matter of dispute; his family, if returned, would be sure to be targets of the government-controlled police. The current spate of abductions indicates the high level of danger for any political activism in Zimbabwe. Mrs Thulambo finds the prospect of their return "terrifying… we are facing death."

In July, Gordon Brown proudly announced to parliament a moratorium on deportations to Zimbabwe. The Immigration Agency seems to be applying a technicality of the Thulambos' use of Malawian documentation. The level of oppression and degradation in Zimbabwe has inspired several world leaders to call for Mugabe's removal. Deportations cannot continue alongside such condemnation.

This case follows other high-profile deportations where the actions of officials, at the behest of ministers, appeared particularly callous. In January, Ama Sumani, 39, was deported to Ghana when her visa expired, despite her continuing chemotherapy for cancer of the kidneys. She died two months later, leaving two children. The Lancet described Mrs Sumani's treatment as "atrocious barbarism".

The government is still considering a proposal to withdraw primary healthcare from GPs for failed asylum seekers in the teeth of opposition from health professionals. Ministers have struggled to find a coherent argument for allowing such discrimination, which can counter the General Medical Council's guiding principle for doctors: 'Make the care of your patient your first concern'.

Other parts of the immigration estate have recently suffered scathing criticism. The Children's Commissioner, Sir Al Aynsley-Green, condemned the annual incarceration of 2,000 children in deportation centres such as Yarl's Wood in Bedfordshire as "shameful" "cruel" and "inherently harmful".

Nick Clegg has campaigned on a number of immigration issues since becoming Liberal Democrat leader. He successfully championed the cause of the Gurkhas when many faced deportation despite long military service for Britain. He is now lobbying for Mrs Thulambo and her daughters directly to home secretary, Jacqui Smith.

He said: "The Home Office seems determined to exploit every possible loophole in order to deport people who have clearly fled Zimbabwe. This government must get tough on Mugabe, not his victims. New Labour has presided over an asylum system which is at once incompetent and cruel. Bureaucratic incompetence means that some refugees must wait years for an answer, during which time they have no means to support themselves. Then, for no apparent reason, they are bundled out of the country even if they and their family have developed roots here. It is an inefficient and inhumane way to treat people fleeing violence and persecution."

Jacqui Smith has caused conflict within the cabinet about raising fears of an "influx" of Zimbabweans wishing to escape the cholera epidemic. Mugabe may make absurd announcements denying the existence of the disease but a spokeswoman for the South African Health Department described the outbreak as being "on a massive, unprecedented scale." The epidemic alone should be sufficient reason to not even contemplate deportation for the Thulambos.

Despite cases of asylum falling by two-thirds since 2000, the BIA has been taking an increasingly tough line on applicants. The agency is employing a degree of hardheartedness that feels well outside our national character and traditions for sheltering the persecuted. The appointment of Phil Woolas as immigration minister in the autumn appears to herald an even less sympathetic approach. Woolas has complained the solicitors representing asylum seekers were just "an industry … undermining the law and playing the system".

Mr Woolas's saloon-bar philosophy obscures an immigration system with significant flaws in its decision-making process and manned by a dispirited and undervalued civil service. The solicitors play a vital role in highlighting mistakes made in the fair consideration of asylum applications. The Refugee Council can show nearly 50 per cent of rejected cases from East African countries such as Eritrea are upheld on appeal.

The Council welcomed the halt to deportations to Zimbabwe, but then they found Zimbabweans were being deported to neighbouring countries. A spokesman for the Refugee Council said, "The UK government should simply be looking after the relatively small number of refugees who are here from Zimbabwe - rather than trying to remove them to countries which are themselves struggling to deal with the tens of thousands who have had to flee recently."

Mrs Thulambo and her daughters are fast running out of time. Her constituency MP, Labour backbencher Angela Smith, has offered her full support, lobbying ministers directly and instigating an urgent review of the case. Nevertheless the tickets for Monday evening's flight are still booked and the return to Mugabe's brutal dictatorship beckons.


Wavesnow said...

Thank you for writing this article. Please keep fighting for all three of these innocent women who need to be brought home to Sheffield right now.