The demonstration has been called following a legal ruling in August that means Zimbabweans in the UK now face the possibility of imminent deportation. Despite the UK government’s own very public condemnation of human rights abuses by the Mugagbe regime, the Asylum and Immigration Tribunal found that ‘refused’ asylum seekers no longer automatically face persecution if returned to Zimbabwe.
We in the Zimbabwean community in exile know only too well how unsafe it is to return Zimbabwe. Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe’s tyrant leader, has called us “British mercenaries” and forced deportation of Zimbabweans. We say that all Zimbabwean asylum seekers should be given Exceptional Leave to Remain until it becomes safe to return to Zimbabwe. We all want to go home, but it is not safe to do that now.
Thando, who currently lives in Wakefield. lost 10 kg in weight during the 38 day hunger strike last year and ended up in hospital for 8 days. She fled Zimbabwe after being physically abused and persecuted by her parents and neighbours for being a lesbian. Thando says,
“If you could put all my tears I cried in detention in a bottle I don’t know, you would fill many bottles. I thought a hunger strike was the only way to stop what was happening. They were not taking my case seriously. The hunger strike resulted in many people writing letters of support. If we had remained silent they would have just taken advantage.
“I can’t go back to Zimbabwe because Mugabe’s regime says that people with my sexuality are ‘worse than pigs and dogs’ and I could be sent to jail for that.“
The demonstration has been called by the Zimbabwe Refugee Community Organisation, Sakile Mtombeni says:
“Mugabe’s dictatorship remains firmly anchored in place. Tony Blair’s government has given up on our struggle to bring democracy to Zimbabwe. By resuming forced deportations, he has literally signed our death warrants. We seek the solidarity of the British public in order to rally the Blair government not to give up on our fight for justice and democracy in Zimbabwe.”
Thando Dube is known better in Zimbabwe as Thandolwenkosi Mpofu. Ms Mpofu fled Zimbabwe for South Africa in 1994 after being physically abused and persecuted by her parents and neighbours for being a lesbian. Three times she was detained in South Africa as an illegal immigrant, once for almost a year. Trying to escape harassment as a lesbian, she started a relationship with a man by whom she became pregnant. But he became violent when he found out that she was a lesbian and attacked her so viciously she still has a knee injury, which stops her walking properly. In 2003 Ms Mpofu left for the UK, leaving her child with friends. In 2004 she was able to contact her mother who is now caring for her son and has been able to provide documents proving her Zimbabwean nationality. The Home Office continued to dispute this, even after DNA tests proved her relationship to her Zimbabwean family, and as a result she was detained for 12 months at Yarl’s Wood detention centre. She was only released after a media probe.
The right to life and liberty faces a growing threat in Zimbabwe. Mugabe has ordered the army to ‘pull the trigger’ on opponents (The Scotsman, 15 August 2006). Many Zimbabwean asylum seekers do not have homes to return to. Mugabe has destroyed thousands of homes and rendered 3.4 million people homeless or destitute. The Zimbabwean government sees returned asylum seekers as “Blair’s mercenaries of regime change” and the information minister recently stated that “The end of a traitor is always death”.
Zimbabweans are demanding: a safe haven – if we are returned to Zimbabwe, we will be persecuted and killed; political change and respect for basic human rights in Zimbabwe; recognition as human beings, not as “failed asylum seekers” or “traitors” and “Blair’s spies”.
Zimbabwean Refugee Community Organisation in Leeds
Tuesday 12 September
Refugee Council 0113 386 2235/ 07776203404
Ref no RM 10/06
Refugee Council backs Zimbabwe demonstration in Leeds
The Refugee Council today pledged its support for a demonstration being staged this Saturday 16 September (12pm outside Leeds Art Gallery) by the Zimbabwean Community in Leeds. The demonstration is calling for an end to the detention and deportation of unsuccessful Zimbabwean asylum seekers.
Following a recent ruling (2nd August 2006) of the Asylum and Immigration Tribunal in London (1) the Immigration and Nationality Directorate has begun detaining Zimbabweans again, with a view to a new wave of forced returns. Deportations had formerly been halted following a ruling at the High Court in October 2005 which found that all asylum seekers being returned to Zimbabwe faced persecution because of the attitude of the Zimbabwean
Government to returned asylum seekers.
Charlotte Cooke, Refugee Council Team Manager (Yorkshire and Humberside) said,
"The Refugee Council is extremely concerned about the new wave of detention of Zimbabwean asylum seekers and we are very fearful for the safety of Zimbabweans who face the prospect of being returned to Mugabe's murderous regime.
Our Government's responsibilities are clear: even if someone is not accepted by our government as being a refugee, we do not send them back into danger, and Zimbabwe is patently not safe."
"Zimbabweans should be given a temporary status allowing them to remain in the UK and have the right to work until such time as it is safe to return to Zimbabwe."
"The Refugee Council wants to see an independent body for all decisions on asylum - including whether it is safe to return - so that policy on asylum is ruled by safety rather than targets for removals.."
Charlotte Cooke is available for media interviews. Contact Refugee Council on 0113 386 2235/ 07776 203404
(1) For details of the ruling see refugee council briefing on Zimbabwe http://www.refugeecouncil.org.uk/policy/briefings/2006/zimbabwe.htm