Rhetoric about victims of Mugabe sits ill with the reality we Zimbabweans seeking asylum find here
By Yeukai Taruvinga
When I tell ordinary British people that I came to this country from Zimbabwe to seek asylum because of Robert Mugabe's government, they are always sympathetic. They see the humanitarian crisis, the old people and children dying of cholera - the UN reported yesterday that there were more than a thousand dead and another 20,000 sufferers. They see on the news night after night what Mugabe is doing to my country. And they see the continuing human rights crisis and how he treats those who oppose him.
Hopes were raised when Mugabe agreed to a power-sharing government with the leader of the Movement for Democratic Change, Morgan Tsvangirai. But it is evident that human rights are still not being respected. In the last two weeks prominent human rights defenders have been abducted by groups suspected of having government links. These include Jestina Mukoko, the director of the Zimbabwe Peace Project, who has not been seen since she was taken from her home on 3 December.
British politicians have expressed great sympathy towards Zimbabweans. Just last week Gordon Brown said that "we must stand together to defend human rights and democracy, to say firmly to Mugabe that enough is enough", and that it was "our duty" to support the aspirations of the Zimbabwean people. David Cameron has described Zimbabwe as the most important issue in the world today and has pressed for wider sanctions and a rescue package for the Zimbabwean people. And David Miliband has said that, "Zimbabwe's crisis is one that the world has a responsibility to respond to."
It is good to hear all this, but how does it translate into action? It is easy to condemn a government from afar. But if politicians really believe that Mugabe is illegitimate, that his repression of his own people is the most important issue in the world today, why do they behave as they do to his victims?
I got involved in supporting the opposition party when I was a student. Like many MDC supporters, I was beaten up by Mugabe's Zanu-PF thugs when I went to meetings and rallies. When they wrote threats on the walls of my family's house, my mother decided that I should leave the country.
I believed that I would be safe when I came here seven years ago, at the age of 18. When I stepped foot on English soil and claimed asylum, I did not realise that I was in for a long battle. I have been detained - imprisoned - for two and a half months, simply because I claimed asylum. I have been moved between three different detention centres, and taken without notice from Colnbrook at Heathrow, to Yarl's Wood in Bedford to Dungavel in Scotland.
You feel extremely helpless in such places: it is almost impossible to stay in touch with friends or your lawyer, and you believe that anything could happen to you and nobody would know about it. Although suspected terrorists cannot be held without trial for more than 28 days, I was locked up for more than 60 days. In Dungavel at that time there were only half a dozen women and hundreds of foreign criminals awaiting deportation. It was terrifying just to walk around the centre.
It seems to me that political leaders are reluctant to do anything to help those who make their way here. Last week Jacqui Smith said that the government's priority was to ensure that Zimbabwean refugees did not use false passports in order to get to this country. She did not say that refugees should find a fair system when they arrive.
I am still not safe. I have not been given refugee status. After my release from detention I was not allowed benefits nor allowed to work. This is the government's policy of destitution; if you have failed in your asylum claim, then you are forced to live without support. I rely on handouts and gifts from churches and friends, even for the bed I sleep in and the soap I wash with. Most of the people who help me are asylum seekers or refugees themselves, because they understand what it's like.
It is humiliating: not only can I not work, but I cannot study or learn. I am worried about the impact this is going to have on my future. I want to study and work, so that when Mugabe is toppled I and my fellow activists can be the backbone of the new country that will arise from the ashes. But all avenues are blocked to me to grow and give back to society. It is strange that this country, which expresses such sympathy for Zimbabwe's people, condemns its refugees to this kind of life - which is no life at all.
• Yeukai Taruvinga is not allowed to work; the fee for this article has been donated to Women Asylum Seekers Together in London, which she chairs
Saturday, 20 December 2008
Paul Canning at 12/20/2008
Labels: Africa, asylum, david cameron, David Miliband, detention, home office, jacqui smith, Yarl's Wood Immigration Removal Center, zimbabwe
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