The fact-finding team made up of officials from the Border and Immigration Agency held meetings with stakeholders, including civil society, in Harare last week.
They were in Bulawayo yesterday.
British Embassy spokesman Keith Scott confirmed the development although he could not give details saying he was travelling outside the country. He referred questions to Andrew Jones, who is in charge of migration, but officials said he would only be available at the embassy tomorrow.
Sources, however, said the team has been meeting officials from international organisations working in Zimbabwe, civil society and other stakeholders to get an appreciation of what is happening on the ground.
“Basically they want to find out if it will be safe for asylum seekers to be returned to Zimbabwe. The information which they will get will then be used to determine whether failed asylum seekers in the UK will be sent back home or not,” said a member of a non-governmental organisation who met the team.
“They are meeting as many people as possible so that they can make an informed decision at the end of the day.”
The team is expected to fly back to the UK tomorrow where they will consolidate the information and make submissions to the British Home Office.
Thousands of Zimbabweans have sought political asylum in the UK citing political violence.
It is estimated that about 200 000 people from Zimbabwe have claimed asylum in the UK, while a report by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) titled 2009 Global Trends: Refugees, Asylum-Seekers, Returnees, Internally Displaced and Stateless Persons, says more than 158 000 Zimbabweans had applied for asylum in 2009 alone. Most of those who sought asylum last year were in South Africa.
“What came out at most of the meetings is that the level of violence and the situation in the country in general has improved since the Government of National Unity was formed. There is, however, a general feeling that the country is still volatile and incidence of violence may rise again if elections are held next year,” said a source who attended one of the meetings. The visit by the fact-finding team comes after the British government was last year stopped from deporting more than 1 000 failed asylum seekers from Zimbabwe.
The UK Asylum and Immigration Tribunal in October last year ruled that it was not safe to return failed asylum seekers to Zimbabwe.
The ruling came after High Court Judge Justice Collins had put a stay on all removals of Zimbabweans after getting fresh evidence suggesting that failed asylum seekers were in danger of being ill-treated and abused on return to Zimbabwe.
The British Home Office is on record saying some Zimbabweans had abused the country’s laws by seeking asylum for economic reasons.
Paradzai Mapfumo of the UK-based Restoration of Human Rights Zimbabwe, said any plans to remove asylum seekers was wrong, because of the on-going politically motivated violence: “We will definitely protest because it is not in the interest of our members. I know of asylum seekers who went home and were harassed.”
“I don’t see it as a good move because the violence is on its high in Zimbabwe. When they send the [fact finding] team, they will be led to ‘safer’ parts of Harare and Bulawayo, but they will not be taken to the rural areas where it is really serious,” he added.
There has been widespread violence in the country, more recently with ZANU PF militia and war vets terrorising locals during the constitutional outreach exercise.
Over the years, thousands of Zimbabweans have sought asylum in the UK, Home Office figures show that 24,085 asylum applications were received from Zimbabweans between 1999 and 2008.
In September 2006 the UK Home Office announced that it would be halting enforced returns to Zimbabwe, and it is still not enforcing the return of Zimbabwean nationals.
Rose Benton of the Zimbabwe Vigil, a UK-based organisation that campaigns against human rights abuses, said: “We will certainly campaign. Zimbabwe is not secure to send people back.”
“Recently one of our activists went back to Zimbabwe. He was picked up just for being there, taken into custody and beaten up. If it wasn’t our big fight to get him out through getting legal help for him, he would still be there. It is a very, very unsafe time for Zimbabweans to go back,” she explained.
The Zimbabwe Vigil has successfully helped fight-off Home Office orders to deport another of its members.
“Whenever someone needs our protection we will grant it. But where they are found not to need protection, we will expect them to return home,” the UK Home Office spokesman said.