A WOMAN who was granted asylum in Northern Ireland after she fled persecution in Zimbabwe could be returned to Robert Mugabe’s regime by the Home Office.

Hlaleleni Karanda (36) arrived in Belfast almost two years ago from the city of Bulawayo in Matabele province.

She was forced to leave her family, including her children when she was targeted by the pro-government Youth Militia. Her involvement with the opposition Movement for Democratic Change made her a target for Mr Mugabe’s internationally-condemned regime.

Ms Karanda was granted asylum on appeal last month but said she was shocked last week to hear that the Home Office has applied for leave to appeal.

At her original hearing the judge accepted that Ms Karanda had been persecuted and her life could be endangered by a return to Zimbabwe.

Representing Ms Karanda, Steven Hollywood of Madden & Finucane Solicitors said if the Home Office sought leave to appeal, then it intended to follow through.

“It takes a very substantial amount of work to do this. It takes a substantial effort to have her asylum revoked,” he said.

He said the Home Office could not dispute that a return home could result directly in Ms Karanda’s death but had the right to appeal on questions of law. The Home Office is exercising this right.

“(Her right to stay) was granted on asylum grounds and also on human rights grounds. It was a fairly conclusive ruling.

“(The Home Office) will have to go through an adjudication hearing to find that the judge had in some way misinterpreted the law,” Mr Hollywood said.

He said it could be after Christmas before the result of the Home Office’s appeal was known.

The move comes at the same time as Zimbabwe’s secession from the Common-wealth and Prime Minister Tony Blair’s denunciation of the Mugabe regime at the Commonwealth summit in Nigeria.

“It appears to be somewhat inconsistent that (the Home Office) should seek to appeal a credible asylum case on a point of law, while on the other hand saying that human rights abuses in Zimbabwe are such that they should enforce suspension from the Common-wealth,” Mr Hollywood said.

A spokesman for the Home Office said he could not comment on individual cases but only on general policies.

“We will challenge that decision because we believed the judgement the first time that she had no right to asylum, and we would look to get (the appeal) overturned,” he said.

“We look at each application in terms of when someone becomes a failed asylum seeker, whether they can return to that country. In each case we look at whether that’s possible or not.”

However, he denied any contradiction between the Prime Minister’s statements on Zimbabwe and Home Office’s appeal against Zimbabwean refugees.

“We have not been removing failed asylum seekers to Zimbabwe because of the situation in Zimbabwe,” he said.

The criteria for genuine asylum seekers was that they had to be in “genuine fear for their life, or suffering persecution, whether political or physical.

“We follow the 1951 Convention on Refugees,” the spokesman said.