By Dale Street
The government’s professed concern for human rights and poverty in Africa stands in marked contrast to its treatment of refugees from Africa.
Last year the major “refugee-producing” countries in Africa were Somalia, Zimbabwe, the Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Zaire), and Sudan — all of them scenes of major human rights abuses and, in some cases, ongoing armed conflicts.
But rejection rates for asylum claims lodged by nationals of these countries were uniformly high — only 55 out of 1,765 asylum-seekers from the Congo were recognised as refugees, for example, and just 120 asylum-seekers out of 1,450 from Sudan.
Particularly revealing is the government’s treatment of Zimbabwean asylum-seekers.
Alarmed by the number of Zimbabwean asylum-seekers — rather than the conditions which created them — the government imposed a visa regime on the country in 2002, making it more difficult for Zimbabwean asylum-seekers to get to Britain.
The following year — faced by evidence that asylum-seekers who were returned to Zimbabwe were subject to ill-treatment on arrival — the government suspended removals to Zimbabwe. But it still refused to recognise most Zimbabwean asylum-seekers as refugees — even though it was too dangerous for them to go back!
Earlier this year — as the situation in Zimbabwe for anyone who was not a Mugabe-loyalist continued to deteriorate — the government announced a change of policy and a resumption of removals to Zimbabwe.
The government — and the courts — are not short of arguments to “justify” rejection of asylum claims from nationals of African countries.
Those fleeing civil war are refused because they are only fleeing a civil war. The UK courts have ruled that a person fleeing civil war must be “differentially at risk” (i.e. more likely to get killed than the run-of-the-mill casualties of a civil war) in order to be recognised as a refugee.
An “internal protection alternative” — the idea that a person could find safety in another part of the country — is another favourite. Victims of the fighting in Darfur, for example, can all go to Khartoum, while those fleeing the breakdown of the state in Somalia can find safety by relocating internally — although it’s never clear where to.
Asylum-seekers who discover that they are suffering from AIDS but come from countries where there is no treatment available have no right to remain in the UK.
The courts have ruled that access to medical treatment (e.g. in the UK) is not a human right. To return asylum-seekers suffering from AIDS to a certain death (i.e. in their own country) therefore does not constitute a breach of their human rights.
If the government’s stated concerns for the population of Africa are contradicted by its treatment of most African asylum-seekers, then the government is only running true to form.
After all, in its second term of office the government managed the feat of combining sweeping rejection of asylum claims from Iraqis with participating in an invasion of the country on the grounds that its government was a threat to the entire world (but not, apparently, to its own population).