Exclusive: Dozens detained ahead of controversial charter flight to Harare next week
Zimbabwean nationals who have been in the UK for decades and have British children are being rounded up for removal on a charter flight to Harare next week, The Independent can reveal.
One man due to be deported, Bryan Mucheriwa, who has been in the UK for 20 years and has three British children, told The Independent he felt frightened at the prospect of returning to his home country.
The Halifax resident, who first claimed asylum in the early 2000s on the basis that he faced political persecution in Zimbabwe because he had opposed the government, but has since been refused a number of times, had been signing on with the Home Office every two weeks.
“I feel so afraid. The Home Office called me last year to verify my identity, but they used someone from the government in Zimbabwe to confirm my identity. Even if I tried to relocate in Zimbabwe, someone in the government has all my information,” he said.
“How can I cope there on my own, when my family is here? if I’m sent back there, I don’t know when I’ll see my kids again.”
The Zimbabwe national, who has not been eligible to work or receive state support for most of his time in the UK, spent a year in prison in 2010 for drug offences, which he says he committed because he needed to “put food on the table”.
Explaining that one of his sons has has cancer, while another has heart problems, Mr Mucheriwa added: “It would be the worst thing for me to leave my family here. I don’t think my kids would ever forgive me.”
His wife, Chenayi Mucheriwa, who has refugee status, said immigration officials came to the house on Tuesday and started asking for her husband.
“I felt really scared. I felt threatened. They were saying: ‘Where’s Bryan?’ They were saying I was hiding him somewhere. I didn’t know what was happening,” she told The Independent.
“I wasn’t expecting anything of that kind to happen. He hasn’t done anything. There’s so much going through my mind now. I can’t cope. I’m so worried.
“He will be in danger. He was heavily involved in opposition politics when he was there and while he has been in the UK. People are still disappearing in Zimbabwe. It’s not safe for him there.”
A petition calling for the deportations to Zimbabwe to be stopped, signed by nine organisations including the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI) and Bail for Immigration Detainees, states that the detainees could face “imminent danger” if they are removed to Zimbabwe.
It states that since president Emmerson Mnangagwa replaced Robert Mugabe following the military coup in November 2017, he had “outperformed his predecessor in persecuting perceived enemies of the state”.
The petition also raises concern about the lack of access to legal representation for deportees between before the deportation flight.
“The clandestine and sinister nature of the operation, and the speed at which it is being executed, is designed to give anyone scheduled for removal little to no chance of access to legal representation,” it states.
Bella Sankey, director at Detention Action, said: “All mass expulsions are unjust; the system becomes overwhelmed, preventing people from accessing potentially life-saving legal advice. But our unfair deportation laws compound this injustice.
“One of the people Detention Action is supporting has lived in the UK since he was five years old. If Black Lives Matter how can Priti Patel deport him from the only country he calls home?”
Minnie Rahman, of JCWI, said: “Right now, the government should be looking at measures to protect the public from true harms, like the soaring rate of covid infections.
“Instead they’re choosing to prioritise the deportation of people who’ve made the UK their home, who have families and futures here, and who would face imminent danger in Zimbabwe – a place where we know atrocious human rights abuses are commonplace.
“The Home Office must stop exiling people to countries where they face mortal danger – no-one’s life should be put at risk because they don’t have the right piece of paper.”
A Home Office spokesperson said it did not comment on operational matters, but added: “Foreign criminals who abuse our hospitality should be in no doubt of our determination to deport them”.
“Any foreign national who is convicted of a crime and given a prison sentence is considered for deportation at the earliest opportunity, and since January 2019 we have removed 7,495 foreign national offenders.”
They said each individual assessment was made against the background of the latest available country of origin information and any relevant caselaw.