Resistance to Zimbabwe deportation plan grows

Victor, Khuzani and Benji, Zimbabweans from South Yorkshire have been released from Morton Hall detention centre. Marian and the other people interviewed by the Zimbabwean Embassy official at Sheffield Home Office have not been detained since. Perhaps Sheffield Home Office got the message from the well-supported local campaign for their right to remain.

However, the Home Office continue with their plans. We know of other Zimbabweans still at Morton Hall and around the country the process of preparing people for detention/possible deportation continues. For example “dozens” of Zimbabweans (including well-known campaigners) were interviewed and photographed by a Zimbabwean Embassy official when they reported at Southend police station (being used by the Home Office) earlier this week. One of them, Felix Zinhu, describes the stress this caused him here

Victor Mujakachi outside Vulcan House “I want the focus of this campaign to be all Zimbabweans not just me”

There are reports of other Zimbabweans being either detained, or interrogated by Zimbabwean Embassy officials invited by the Home Office, around the country. The stress and anxiety caused by this needs to be appreciated. Perhaps for the UK government it’s an intended consequence of their desire to create a hostile environment for people like Marian and Victor. And why should people have to sacrifice their privacy and expose themselves to even more risk by speaking out against the Zimbabwean government on national media and online?

The Zimbabwean government is well aware of criticism from opposition activists forced to become refugees. Zimbabwean Information Minister Nick Mangwana responded to stated fears of persecution from Marian Machekanyanga and others by making the laughable claims that “there are no political persecutions in Zimbabwe” and “there is no single returnee that has been persecuted regardless of the circumstances of their departure”.

In February 2018 the UK Ambassador to Zimbabwe Catriona Laing and Zimbabwean Deputy President Kembo Mohadi agreed to cooperate in the deportation of 2500 Zimbabweans living in the UK.

The Zim Vigil, a weekly protest outside the Zimbabwean Embassy in London

There has been much speculation on the details of this deal between the UK government and the Zimbabwean military dictatorship. In return for accepting 2500 Zimbabwean refugees perhaps Zimbabwe would receive financial aid, favourable trade deals (important for the UK post-Brexit) or diplomatic support in rejoining the Commonwealth?

The Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Zimbabwe tellingly described the UK government’s “ill-advised cosying-up to the Zimbabwean leadership, which owed its position, power and loyalty to the military and political machine that manoeuvred to install it and not to the people of Zimbabwe through a free and fair electoral process. I will not go into more detail; the Minister knows what I am talking about”.  Brian Donnelly, ex-UK Ambassador to Zimbabwe was more explicit, describing a “disgraceful conspiracy by the Home Office and Foreign and Commonwealth Office to return Zimbabweans against their will”.

So the campaign against detentions and threatened deportations to Zimbabwe – at it’s most dangerous for opposition supporters for years – continues. We’ve had widespread national and local media coverage, including this excellent Channel 4 report on the Sheffield February 19th protest in support of Marian. There has been parliamentary pressure, for example here from Sheffield Central MP Paul Blomfield. We’ve seen an impressive mobilisation of campaigners, refugee organisations, political parties and countless individuals illustrated by a petition for Victor Mujakachi which gained 75,000 signatures in a week.

Vulcan House, Sheffield Home Office

Inspired by the bravery of Zimbabwean asylum seekers and by what we’ve already achieved the campaign against deportations to Zimbabwe continues. While well-known and much-loved activists like Victor and Marian have received huge publicity and support we will campaign against all deportations to Zimbabwe. As Marian put it “this shouldn’t be happening to anyone, not just me”.

 

thanks to Manuchehr, Luis Arroyo for the photos, many more on our Facebook pages

 

 

We’re not frightened anymore – Sheffield says no to Zimbabwe Deportations

I have never been on a demonstration at 9am on a Tuesday morning before. Would everybody else be at work or in bed? Would more than 2 people and a dog turn up? But my worries were small compared to the anxiety that Marian was feeling today.

Marian Machekanyanga is a Zimbabwean asylum seeker living in Sheffield. Marian was called by the Home Office to report at Vulcan House (the local branch of the Home Office in Sheffield) at 9am. The last time she reported at Vulcan House she – and other people – were questioned by a Zimbabwean Embassy official, invited there by the Home Office. Two Zimbabweans were detained and sent to Morton Hall detention centre straight after, threatened with deportation to Zimbabwe where violence against political opponents is at its worst for many years.

Marian and others Zimbabwean asylum seekers asked for support. So South Yorkshire Migration and Asylum Action Group (SYMAAG) organised a demonstration outside Vulcan House, at the same time Marian was inside reporting to the Home Office, fearing that she might never come out of the front door. The response was big, even by Sheffield standards. 200 people chanted “Marian belongs in Sheffield” “No deportations to Zimbabwe” while security staff at the Home Office reporting centre looked out sheepishly. Marian was inside for just a few minutes and came out of the front door to cheers.

“I’m not frightened anymore” Marian told the crowd, going on to say that she was humbled by the support she’d had and telling us how she loved Sheffield. But Marian reminded us that other Zimbabwean asylum seekers – including Khuzani Ndlovu and Benji Gudza – were still detained at Morton Hall under threat of deportation.

Victor Mujakachi spoke next. Victor had also been detained and released after a campaign by his many friends and supporters – a petition for his release has gathered a remarkable 75,000 signatures in a week.

He stressed the need to support others detained at Morton Hall who were less well-known and connected than him.

Other speakers including Phillis Andrew from SYMAAG talked from personal experience about what detention centres are and how they are some of the most hostile places in the hostile environment for people seeking asylum. The apparent cosiness between the UK government and Zimbabwean dictatorship was a theme for other speakers.

So what did we achieve today? Marian is safe for now, she’s laughing with her friends and eating carrot cake downstairs at The Sanctuary asylum seeker drop in as I write this. But she’s due to report at Vulcan House within 2 weeks.

Victor was released. It took a campaign combining public protests, parliamentary questions, legal support, national media coverage including a very brave Channel 4 interview, a Guardian newspaper front page, a feature in the Independent, widespread local media and a social media campaign which reached new audiences. But there are still Zimbabwean people in detention. The Home Office has invited Zimbabwean Embassy officials to question Zimbabwean asylum seekers around the country. The UK government has still not – as it did between 2002 and 2010 – suspended deportations to Zimbabwe because of ‘political and humanitarian factors’ there.

I think the most important thing this week’s campaign has achieved is how we have surprised ourselves: 200 people did turn out to a morning demo in the winter, perhaps we underestimate support for refugees; Marian and others – for the first time in their lives – have told their story in national TV and newspaper interviews; the Home Office are clearly disturbed by the intensity and reach of our campaign. Victor was released from detention. Refugees in SYMAAG and other organisations have spoken out with a new confidence and authority.

The Home Office’s ongoing attempt to detain and deport high-profile, much-loved activists to Zimbabwe at a time when it is patently not safe felt like a challenge. I’m pleased we rose to that challenge this last week.

I hope that the energy and optimism generated is the basis for future campaigns against detention and deportation alongside people who are not as well known as Victor and Marian. This week we’ll be meeting to discuss what kind of alliances we need to make in Sheffield to maintain this momentum. But right now, I’m going downstairs for some carrot cake.

 

This article by Stuart Crosthwaite was originally published on Right to Remain’s blog https://righttoremain.org.uk/were-not-frightened-anymore-sheffield-says-no-to-zimbabwe-deportations/19 Feb

No Deportations to Zimbabwe – protest Tues 19th Feb 9am Vulcan House

So far two asylum seekers from Sheffield/Zimbabwe have been detained and are threatened with deportation to Zimbabwe. They were detained when they went to Vulcan House, the Home Office building in Sheffield for an ‘interview’ on Monday 11th February. An article in Independent “He’ll be killed” 12th Feb gives more information

This latest move follows asylum seekers being questioned by a Zimbabwean Embassy official invited by the Home Office to interrogate them in December. A number of other Zimbabwean asylum seekers are being asked to attend Vulcan House over the next week and we are concerned that they maybe detained. Naturally, they are afraid that this could result in deportation to Zimbabwe, the country they were forced to leave because of persecution.

That’s why Zimbabwean asylum seekers have called for a protest to support them when they go to Vulcan House. The Home Office and government seem ready to deport political opponents of the Zimbabwean government at the height of violence against those who criticise ZANU (PF). SYMAAG member Marian Machekanyanga described the Zimbabwean army going house to house to identify, beat, detain, sometimes kill opposition activists and others critical of the government, of children shot in the street, internet access shut down and phone calls monitored. The new Zimbabwean government of Emerson Mnangagwa seems every bit as repressive as Robert Mugabe’s.

Sign the petition to release Victor Mujakachi from detention https://www.change.org/p/home-office-free-victor-mujakachi

Some of the Zimbabwean people in Sheffield threatened with deportation are well-known and well-liked community activists like Victor Mujakachi and Marian Machekanyanga. 5000 people signed a petition to release him from Morton Hall immigration detention centre in 24 hours. Other people are not so well-connected but all need our support. There should be no deportations to Zimbabwe. Our asylum system should give protection to those who need it, not hand them over to their tormentors.

 

No Deportations to Zimbabwe. Release our friends from detention. Zimbabwe is Not Safe

Demonstrate! Tuesday 19th February 9am Vulcan House, Sheffield Home Office S3 8NU