Zimbabwean refugees to descend on Downing Street

By staff writers
13 Jan 2009

Destitute Zimbabweans who have sought sanctuary in the UK will today ask Gordon Brown for permission to work, pay taxes and gain the skills to help them rebuild Zimbabwe at a demonstration and delegation to Downing Street.

The demonstration is organised by Citizens for Sanctuary, a Citizen Organising Foundation campaign to implement the findings of the Independent Asylum Commission. The action is timed to mark six months since Gordon Brown promised to review the situation of 11,000 destitute Zimbabweans in the UK who cannot return home, and yet are not allowed to work or access benefits.

Several hundred Zimbabweans and supporters will assemble outside Downing Street in a traditional colourful and noisy Zimbabwean demonstration of songs and dancing to remind the Prime Minister that it is six months since he promised to look “...at what we can do to support Zimbabweans in that situation [destitute], and we will report back to the House in due course.”

A delegation of Zimbabweans and a cross-party group of Parliamentarians who support the campaign call will then deliver a dossier of several hundred CVs from Zimbabweans who are ready and willing to work and whose skills and experiences are going to waste because of the ban on work.

The dossier of CVs shows that many Zimbabweans have skills and work experience in areas listed in the government’s National Shortage Occupation List – such as teaching, social care and nursing. In a covering letter to the dossier, the parliamentarians and the Zimbabwean delegation will challenge Brown to match his rhetoric on Zimbabwe with his treatment of its people in the UK by allowing Zimbabweans to work and pay taxes to benefit the UK economy and provide them with skills to help rebuild Zimbabwe when it is safe to return.

Over 20 civil society institutions from across the UK will show the British people’s support for Zimbabweans by pledging strategic internships in universities, schools, hospitals, churches, charities, the media and Parliament, to provide the skills and experience that will help rebuild Zimbabwe. Citizens for Sanctuary will issue an appeal for other organisations to pledge strategic internships, starting with a call to the Prime Minister to offer them within government departments, including at 10 Downing Street, to help rebuild democracy and good governance in Zimbabwe in the future.

In July 2008 2,000 destitute Zimbabweans rallied in Parliament Square calling for permission to work and pay taxes, at a demonstration organised by the Citizen Organising Foundation and addressed by John Sentamu, the Archbishop of York, and other civil society leaders.

Chipo, an accountant from Zimbabwe who has been destitute in the UK for 7 years, said: “It was so difficult for me to leave the country, the job, and the young children I loved because I opposed Mugabe. I came to Britain for sanctuary, but instead find myself in a terrible limbo. I can’t go home but I have no way of supporting myself here. We are a proud people – we just want to be able to work, pay taxes, and develop the skills that will help us piece together the shattered remains of our homeland when it is safe to return.”

Jonathan Cox, Lead Organiser of the Citizens for Sanctuary campaign, said: “It has been half a year since the Prime Minister promised to look at what could be done for Zimbabweans. This demonstration will remind Mr Brown that 11,000 destitute Zimbabweans are waiting for him to keep his word. Our government has been a world leader in criticising Mugabe while leaving many of those who escaped that horrific regime to languish here without hope. We must prepare Zimbabweans who came to Britain in search of sanctuary with the skills and experience that they will need to forge a brighter future for their country once democracy and stability are restored.”

Simon Keyes, Director of St Ethelburga’s Centre for Reconciliation and Peace, who is pledging an internship, said: "It would be a callous waste of human potential if Zimbabwean exiles were not able to keep their skills alive and make a contribution to British society whilst they are guests here. Many businesses, charities and public sector institutions could pledge internships for Zimbabweans. We must show that the British people are not prepared to leave Zimbabweans who have fled the Mugabe regime to rot in the UK.”

The Earl of Sandwich, who was a Commissioner on the Independent Asylum Commission and will be part of the delegation to Downing St said: "The Independent Asylum Commission recommended that people who have been refused sanctuary and who cannot go home yet should be allowed a temporary and revocable permit to work. The Zimbabweans fit that criteria perfectly and there is a strong economic and moral case for them to be allowed to support themselves and pay taxes."

The Citizens for Sanctuary demonstration and delegation will coincide with a period of renewed parliamentary focus on Zimbabwe with the Government to face questions on the issue in the House of Commons and the House of Lords.

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