Monday, 7 July 2008

Zimbabwean exiles abandoned, left destitute

One image from the terror campaign: More

By Paul Canning

The UK Prime Minister is currently in Japan lecturing people about doing more to oust Robert Mugabe.

At the same time his government is doing everything it can to oust the opposition to Mugabe from the UK.

This week 11,000 Zimbabwean refugees received letters asking them to return to a country described by the same government as undergoing a campaign of terror orchestrated by a military cabal. No opposition is brokered and activists are being hunted down and killed.

These refugees are being denied a right to work or any official support (because they are 'refused' to return because they are terrified and do not have 'leave to remain') so they are - officially - destitute and many are homeless and some beg to survive. This is the practice adopted by the UK government to force people to return.

It is hypocrisy of the highest order. Many poor African countries have accepted thousands more Zimbabwean refugees, in South Africa millions. Yet the fifth richest country in the world refuses basic support to the very same people it is praising in Zimbabwe - Mugabe's opposition.

The sole reason is because the UK government is beholden to a few media proprietors who propagate lies about asylum seekers to make money from populist fears.

The government has been trying for some time to forcibly send people back to Zimbabwe - there was a court case which highlighted the unreported issue this week.

Donna Covey, Chief executive of the Refugee Council said:

“The legal ping pong over the removal of Zimbabweans is now becoming farcical. The Judges in explaining their decision today said as much, making the point that the test case going through the courts is more than a year old, and based on even older evidence, while the situation in Zimbabwe is clearly deteriorating day by day.

“It’s now time for the government to drop the legal action and do the decent and sensible thing. It should give all Zimbabweans a temporary right to stay in the UK until the situation in their country improves markedly. This would allow the Zimbabweans, many of whom are well qualified, to work to support themselves and to carry on making plans for rebuilding their shattered country once the Mugabe regime falls.

“The current situation, where brave Zimbabweans who have stood up for democracy and human rights are left homeless and destitute in the UK, having been refused any protection, is a disgrace.”

Sir John Waite, co-chairman of the Independent Asylum Commission, which has just published a report on the asylum system in the UK, described the situation as a source of shame.

He said: "We heard testimony from many Zimbabwean asylum seekers and we were shocked by what we found - Zimbabweans sleeping on sofas, in parks and launderettes, reliant on charity and prevented from working."

He added: "Our nation's leaders have loudly condemned the Mugabe regime, but perhaps we should also look a little closer to home, to the thousands of Zimbabwean asylum seekers who have been left in a harsh legal limbo - unable to work, deprived of welfare and unable to return home. If the British people had heard what we have heard from destitute Zimbabweans, they would be troubled and perhaps even ashamed."

A march and rally is due to be held in Westminster on Friday, to ask for asylum seekers from Zimbabwe to be given status and the right to work. It will begin in Parliament Square, outside Westminster Abbey, at 1.30pm.

It will be preceded by a special service at St Margaret’s Church Westminster Abbey, led by the Archbishop of York, John Sentamu.


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