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The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) says it is gravely concerned about reports of the forced return of Zimbabwean opposition politician and asylum-seeker Tendai Biti.
Mr Biti expressed the intention to seek asylum in Zambia at the border yesterday.
The UNHCR says the Zambian government handed over Mr Biti to his country of origin today despite a court order to the contrary.
“Refoulement or forcibly returning refugees and asylum-seekers to their country of origin is a serious violation of international refugee law,” a statement from the UNHCR said.
The UNHCR has since called on Zambia to investigate the incident urgently.
However, earlier today, Chief Government Spokesperson Dora Siliya said that Government had not abrogated the asylum laws by handing back Zimbabwe’s Movement Democratic Change Alliance (MDC), opposition co-leader Tendai Biti.
Ms. Siliya said that the action was within the law because Mr. Biti did not qualify for the asylum conditions.
Ms. Siliya, who is also Information and Broadcasting Minister, added that a person can only seek asylum if the country of origin is under massive violence and total breakdown of law and order, which was not in the case with Mr. Biti.
Ms. Siliya noted that the lives of citizens in Zimbabwe were not threatened and government concluded that it also applied to Mr. Biti, hence he did not qualify to be granted asylum in Zambia.
“The Zimbabwean MDC leader presented himself to the Zambian Authorities at Chirundu boarder post seeking asylum and was held at the boarder following consultations with government after the conclusions of the consultations particularly with Ministry of Home affairs it was deduced that he did not qualify for asylum” she said.
Ms. Siliya added that Mr. Biti has been handed back to the Zimbabwean authorities and NOT deported because he was NOT in Zambia illegally but he had been denied entry into the country and was being held at the boarder pending consultations.
“On the matter that he managed to get a court order against his handing back, he has been handed back to the Zimbabwean authorities I want to confirm that consultations in the office of Attorney General show that he had already been handed back to his Zimbabwean authorities when his court order was apparently granted “, she said.
Ms. Siliya was reacting to various stakeholders who have condemned the Zambian government for denying Mr. Biti asylum.
This was after the MDC co-leader was in the country to seek asylum after the Zimbabwean authorities were pursuing Mr. Biti on allegations of inciting violent protests in Harare during the just ended elections.
- Lusaka Times