Jacqui Smith uses Zimbabwe crisis to push visa agenda
Richard Ford, Home Correspondent
From Times Online
December 12, 2008
Jacqui Smith: told cabinet colleagues that Zimbabweans could exploit loopholes in South Africa's passport policy
Zimbabwe's cholera outbreak has prompted a Whitehall battle over controversial Home Office proposals to impose a visa regime on visitors from South Africa.
Jacqui Smith, the Home Secretary, warned the Cabinet earlier this week of a potential huge rise in Zimbabweans attempting to enter the UK as they flee the spread of the disease.
Visitors from Robert Mugabe's ruined nation need a visa to travel to Britain, but the Home Office is alarmed at the ability of non-South African nationals to acquire passports from the country, allowing them to travel to London without the same level of regulation.
A six-month Home Office consultation ends next month on imposing a visa regime on visitors from South Africa and ten other countries, including Botswana, Namibia, Swaziland and Lesotho. The move has pitted the Department against the Foreign Office, which does not want the visa restrictions introduced.
Ms Smith told the Cabinet that non-South Africans are obtaining fake passports to gain entry into Britain, and is thought to have highlighted the way some Zimbabwean refugees have been able to purchase South African passports either in the country itself or in neighbouring states.
Lord Malloch Brown, a Foreign Office minister, said : The Home Secretary has warned that we need to make sure we've got the appropriate arrangements in place to stop illegal papers… being used to enter the country.
She wants to make sure that her border agency is properly prepared for this. She briefed the cabinet on that way, prior to a longer discussion on Zimbabwe.
In July, the Home Office threatened to impose the regime on visitors from South Africa amidst fears that the country is being used as a transit point by al-Qaeda operatives to gain entry to the UK. The Department also gave the 11 countries six months to make a range of improvements, including how passports are issued, if they were to avoid imposition of the regime.
A Home Office spokesperson said today: We said earlier this year that our visa regime should widen. Our assessment for which countries need visas is still ongoing. No final decisions have yet been made. As with any Government policy there are discussions across Whitehall.
The spokesperson added: The British Government takes its international responsibilities seriously and we will grant protection to those Zimbabweans that need it. But it's crucial we don't let people abuse the system and take advantage of this ongoing humanitarian crisis by pretending to be Zimbabwean or by making false asylum claims.
The review of all non-European states which do not presently require a visa for entry to the UK looked at the security of passports, including the application, production and storage of the documents. Other criteria used in the test was whether there was co-operation in re-documentation and return of nationals being deported or removed from the UK for immigration and other offences; the risk posed by the country's nationals in terms of terrorism and criminality and the steps taken by the country to combat terrorism, crime and immigration abuse internally.
After a meeting with a British minister in June, South Africa said it planned to increase the security of their passport and ID issuing procedures.
In 2006, about 456,000 South Africans came to the UK – the fifth largest group of visitors to Britain after Americans, Australians, Canadians and Japanese. In the same year more than 180,000 visited from Brazil, 176,000 from Malaysia, and more than 35,000 came from Trinidad and Tobago.
Nick Clegg, Liberal Democrat leader, said: This is just more of the heartless scaremongering we have come to expect from Labour ministers.
Far from closing the door on those fleeing Mugabes barbarism, the Government should now make it clear that Zimbabwean asylum seekers will not be sent back to their country until he has been removed. Jacqui Smith should get tough on Robert Mugabe, not on his victims.
Anyone with basic knowledge of the situation would realise that someone who cannot afford bottled water is not exactly in a position to be buying plane tickets.
Linda, London, UK
How dare the British impose visa restrictions on South Africans – how much of Britain's wealth was not generated in South Africa? After India, SA must have been one of the biggest contributors to the UK. What do you think the Boer War was all about?
Wilhelm snyman, Cape Town, South Africa
Visa s for all Africans visiting the UK
Albert Cooper, Norwich, England
What a waste of time this Island has become! Just look on Britain as a door mat with the words written on it “USE US,ABUSE US, WELCOME”.
aNDREW bALMBRA, Newcastle On Tyne, England
Mugabe 'was joking about cholera'
Mugabe: 'There is no cholera in Zimbabwe'
It's time someone else arrested Mugabe