The British Home Office says the ruling against a Zimbabwean asylum seeker does not mean automatic removal of people who failed to gain asylum in the United Kingdom.  Tendai Maphosa reports for VOA from London that a recent ruling has sparked concern among other failed asylum seekers that they will be deported.

A Home Office spokesperson told VOA that removal of failed asylum seekers would not be automatic.  She said an appeal of a ruling against asylum would halt the removal process before it begins.  If there was no appeal, she said, the government would encourage those affected to go home voluntarily before being forcibly removed.

A Home Office statement said it was pleased by last week's Asylum and Immigration Tribunal ruling dismissing an appeal by a Zimbabwean asylum seeker.  She had appealed against being sent back to Zimbabwe.  She said she feared persecution for having sought refuge in the United Kingdom.

The statement added that the British government has grave concerns about, what it called, the appalling human rights situation in Zimbabwe, and said it continues to press for an end to abuses.  It also said refuge for asylum seekers with a genuine need for protection will continue to be given.

The ruling caused anxiety among failed asylum seekers who had been awaiting the appeal result.  Under British law, a legal appeal results in other similar cases being put on hold while the courts decide.

The Asylum and Immigration Tribunal has the same standing in British law as a regular court.

Since the appeal was launched in 2005 there have been no deportations of failed asylum seekers to Zimbabwe, except some who had committed crimes or used third-country passports to enter the United Kingdom.

Deri Hughes-Roberts of The Refugee Legal Center, which represented the woman, said the tribunal's ruling contained some positive elements that would allow Zimbabweans who oppose their government to seek refugee status, if not asylum.

"In many respects the ruling is quite helpful, for example, because it accepts that even a low-level supporter of the opposition in Zimbabwe may well be deserving of refugee status," she said.  "So the decision does not affect the principle [that] every case should be considered on its own merits and there is a lot in this judgment to support individual claims."

But Hughes-Roberts said high-profile political activists, who could be imprisoned or persecuted for their views or actions, stood a better chance of being granted asylum prior to the ruling.