The prime minister, Tony Blair, today ruled out a general moratorium on the deportation of Zimbabwean asylum seekers for fear it would lead to abuses of the system.
As a hunger strike among Zimbabweans seeking refuge in Britain entered its sixth day, Mr Blair said the government was in a "difficult" situation over what to do with people fleeing President Robert Mugabe's regime.
"We abhor what has happened in Zimbabwe," he said at his monthly press briefing. "Everything said about Mugabe has been shown to be true. But over the past few years we have cut asylum numbers down dramatically and for the first time are getting the system under control.
"If we introduce a generalised moratorium in respect of Zimbabwe instead of assessing each case on a case-by-case basis, our real fear is that we will open up our system to the abuse we have been shutting down."
He said all of those deported to Zimbabwe had had their claims thoroughly investigated, often by a court.
"If we then say, even to those whose claims fail, that we are not going to send you back, we will send a signal right across the system that Britain is open for claims ... that are not genuine."
Mr Blair said he "despaired" about the "appalling" regime in Zimbabwe and welcomed the fact that a UN envoy was visiting the country to inspect the latest home clearances, which have left hundreds of thousands homeless.
"I desperately want to do more. But I know that will create opposition from other countries surrounding Zimbabwe and from Zimbabwe itself."
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And that's the rub, isn't it. Blair is unable to do anything because he cannot rally the international community, especially African states, to support action. He is unable to extend blanket asylum because the British public won't tolerate unrestricted immigration. This is a story we've seen time and again. The poor suffer while the "civilized" world stands by and "desperately wants" to do something about it, but cannot because that would be acting like a "cowboy" and would involve diplomatic and political risks.
The real tragedy of Iraq is that the intense international and domestic opposition to intervention it engendered would seem to preclude any action at all to respond to other instances of gross barbarism.
And the poor continue to suffer.
LONDON (Reuters) - Britain called on Monday for the United Nations Security Council to debate a housing crackdown in Zimbabwe and what it says are wider human rights abuses, after a visiting senior U.N. official reports back.
Right. First the visit, then the report, then interminable talk, and China blocks any meaningful action against Mugabe, and they settle for a strongly worded statement condemning Mugabe's actions, and that will set everything right.
Read it here.