The UK Home Secretary Priti Patel believes the Zimbabweans "committed murder, rape and other despicable crimes."
The first batch of dozens of Zimbabweans deported from the UK, have landed in the southern African country. Some of them had been in the UK for decades and were forced to leave their families behind to begin an uncertain future in their country of origin.
Rights groups and politicians in Britain pressured the UK government to stop the deportations, arguing that the deportees are at risk of persecution in Zimbabwe. Member of Parliament Stephen Farry called the immigration laws ‘draconian’.
Those deported, and those awaiting deportation, were convicted of committing crimes in Britain. They argue that the UK has a right to deport foreigners who commit crimes after they serve their sentences.
Fourteen of the deportees arrived at the airport on Thursday in the capital Harare, and were quickly put into waiting buses to go to a quarantine center where they will stay for 10 days before they can rejoin their families.
Initially 50 people were planned to be deported but only 14 of them were on board when the flight took off from London’s Stansted airport.
It is partly due to the coronavirus outbreak in the detention centre as well as the last-minute legal challenges posed by the human rights lawyers trying to stall the deportations.
Although there are no exact figures, thousands left Zimbabwe for the UK, its former coloniser, to escape a biting political and economic crisis at the turn of the century. Many Zimbabweans whose bids for asylum were rejected by Britain also face deportation.
The UK Home Office described the deportation in a statement as "a landmark and historic agreement to return foreign national offenders".
Home Secretary Priti Patel said the Zimbabweans "committed murder, rape and other despicable crimes."
It is the first mass deportation flight to Zimbabwe for many years and marks the start of a planned ‘summer season’ of charter flight deportations to countries including Vietnam and Jamaica that the Home Office is planning in the coming weeks.
Apart from those in the UK facing deportation, many migrants and refugees face harsher treatment by the toughened restrictions on migrants by Home Secretary Priti Patel.
The Nationality and Borders Bill which was introduced by Patel, passed in parliament on Tuesday. The bill gives UK border forces the right to turn back migrant boats on the Channel between the UK and France and to use “reasonable force, if necessary”.
The legislation also makes it a criminal offence to arrive in the UK without permission, with a maximum sentence for those entering the country unlawfully increasing from six months to four years.
Under the law, people smugglers will face life sentences, up from the current maximum of 14 years.The legislation also gives power to the government to send migrants to an Australia-style off-shore migration centre, reportedly in Africa.
The bill's unveiling comes as Britain's asylum system strains under the pressure of a record number of arrivals over the Channel. A total of nearly 6,000 migrants have made the dangerous crossing in the first six months of 2021.
The total number of 8,417 arrivals for the whole of 2020 is expected to be overtaken in the next two months if current trends continue.