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|Hard Line On Somali Asylum Pleas To Go On: Home Office Unmoved By UN Advice On Forced Returns|
London, June 21, 2004 (The Guardian) – The Home Office has said it will continue to send failed asylum seekers back to Mogadishu against the advice of the Somali government and the United Nations.
Several European countries, including Britain, have been trying to send back rejected Somali asylum seekers but some reports have claimed they are failing to make it beyond a transit flight to Dubai because they are being abandoned by their escorts.
The European court of human rights recently issued an injunction against the Dutch government's attempts to forcibly send Somalis home to Mogadishu and southern Somalia, widely regarded as a warzone. A full court hearing has yet to be held.
Somalia is now the source of the largest number of asylum applications to Britain from any country with 1,000 applicants coming between January and March this year.
The "transitional national government" (TNG) in Somalia has written to the British refugee welfare charity Asylum Aid saying it does not advise forced returns for the "forseeable future" because of the "existing insecurity of affairs in the country". The government's minister for refugees and diaspora said there has been no agreement or "exchange of ideas" between Britain and the TNG over the return of failed asylum seekers.
A Home Office spokeswoman said the government did not recognize the TNG and returns would continue in cases where there was no risk of persecution or a need for humanitarian protection.
While returns to Somaliland in the northern part of the country are widely accepted by the international community, there has been widespread unease at Britain's quiet change of policy in sending people back to the volatile capital of Mogadishu. More than 100 civilians were killed in the last month and much of the city is controlled by warring militias.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees restated his opposition to the forced returns to southern Somalia, including the capital, after the Guardian highlighted the change of policy last week.
"Few agencies have a permanent international presence in southern Somalia and all UN flights were recently suspended because of the security risks," said a UNHCR spokeswoman. "There have been reports of a sharp deterioration in the general security situation in Mogadishu over the past few months, marked by heavy fighting and serious human rights violations."
The UN agency said it was unable to monitor such returns properly which meant that people were being sent back into something of a black hole. The government's policy of sending rejected asylum seekers back to Congo from Britain has also come under strong criticism. The Bishop of Winchester has written to the home secretary, David Blunkett, saying he is very concerned to learn from Congolese asylum seekers in Southampton that the immigration appeals tribunal has ruled that it is safe to forcibly return them home.
The bishop said that he feared Britain's attitude towards expelling failed Congolese asylum seekers had strengthened since President Kabila visited the UK this year.
The president reported that there was a failed coup in the Congo this month. More than 230,000 people have been displaced from their homes as a result of an armed conflict that started at the beginning of last year. Last week a further 22,000 fled to Burundi to escape fighting in eastern Congo.
A Home Office spokeswoman said they were in discussions with Congo about speeding up the documentation necessary to process the removal of failed asylum seekers and were working towards an agreement over returns.
The only country to which Britain refuses forcibly to return asylum seekers to is Zimbabwe.