|The ZIMBABWE Situation||Our
thoughts and prayers are with Zimbabwe |
- may peace, truth and justice prevail.
by Angus Crawford
The United Nations refugee agency has condemned the British Government's decision to impose visa restrictions on Zimbabweans.
It says the new requirement is locking genuine asylum seekers into a country where repression and human rights abuses are widespread.
Figures published on Friday are expected to show a huge drop in asylum claims from Zimbabweans since November when the rules came into force.
The government says the new system was imposed because of widescale abuses of the system.
Many Zimbabweans have been tortured
"Zanu-PF people wanted to kill me. They killed my sister. She was queuing for mealie meal, they killed her," said one of six asylum seekers sitting in a refugee office at Heathrow.
"There's no food. There's nothing in the shops," said another.
None of the six could get the vital stamp in their passports - so most became reluctant clients of criminal traffickers.
"For you to apply for the visa you have to have plus or minus three million Zim dollars (about £34,000) and then you have to apply for the visa, which is plus or minus 75,000 (about £860)," said one.
Not many people had that much money, he said.
The woman whose sister was killed said there was another difficulty in applying for visas - it let the ruling Zanu-PF party know who was fleeing the country.
"They know that if you are applying for a visa you are an MDC [opposition] member," she said.
For you to apply for the visa you have to have plus or minus three million Zim dollars (about £34,000)
Zimbabwean asylum seeker
Two weeks later that number was down to just 11.
According to the Home Office more than 2,000 Zimbabweans arrived in the UK in just three months last year, the second largest group of applicants.
Figures published on Friday are expected to show a significant drop-off in numbers.
The government believes this proves many in the past made bogus claims.
The UN's refugee agency disagrees.
Simon Taylor, spokesman for the UNHCR, said: "We have asked the Home Office to look again at this.
"We have certainly asked them to ensure that there are safeguards that those who might have a legitimate concern and fear about their safety and security have the opportunity to get a visa, and have the opportunity to seek asylum in the UK."
Without that option, he said, Zimbabweans were forced to turn to criminal traffickers, or to stay in the country where they may be under threat.
The UK does not accept that we are required to... facilitate the travel of people to the UK to claim asylum
More than 8,000 asylum applications have been received, with 70% approved.
The Home Office refused requests for an interview, but released a brief statement in which it said: "The UK does not accept that we are required to consider claims for asylum from people outside the UK, or facilitate the travel of people to the UK to claim asylum."
It went on to say that Zimbabwe was not considered wholly unsafe, but that for the time being, no failed asylum seekers would be removed there.
Scant consolation for those who claim they never wished to leave their country in the first place - and who say they would return as soon as President Mugabe's regime came to an end.
by Hugh Pym
BBC business correspondent
BP has a joint venture in Zimbabwe
Of the 50 biggest UK firms listed on the London stock market, 18 said they had a presence in the country, or trading relationships with Zimbabwean organisations.
A further 12 companies failed to respond.
The news comes two weeks after England's cricketers pulled out of their Cricket World Cup match in Zimbabwe, following pressure for them to take a stand against the regime of Zimbabwe's president, Robert Mugabe.
Firms surveyed included companies with long trading histories in the country - BP and Shell have a joint venture there.
Barclays has 39 branches and 1,700 staff.
On a smaller scale, Cadbury Schweppes has a minority stake in a local confectionery business.
Supermarket giant Tesco imports some vegetables from Zimbabwe.
Drinks giant Diageo sees its Smirnoff, Gilbeys and Booths brands produced in-country.
And pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca has a small presence in Zimbabwe.
There is an EU travel ban on Zimbabwean government officials, but no economic sanctions.
A Foreign Office spokesman said it was felt that any block on commercial links would harm Zimbabweans.
But English cricket's ruling body, the ECB, said it was perverse and inequitable that, while businesses were trading with Zimbabwe, cricketers had been asked to make an isolated and symbolic gesture.
The ministers from the Anglican, Roman Catholic, Methodist, Lutheran, Dutch Reform, Presbyterian and Pentecostal churches were still being held last night.
Carrying three big wooden crosses, they walked through the streets of Harare to the police headquarters to deliver a petition urging "immediate corrective measures to ensure that the police force in this country performs its duties with respect for the church and all citizens of Zimbabwe".
As they approached they were surrounded by police officers in riot gear who sang "It's been a long time since you were beaten" in Shona, and banged batons on their truck.
The officers arrested the ministers and took them to the central charge office.
The petition accused the police of "many cases of violence against people, pastors and clergy in this country", and added: "We find this misuse of police power completely objectionable and unacceptable."
Since the beginning of the year more than a dozen people, including three MPs and a lawyer, have claimed that they have been tortured by the police.
The police have also held a high court judge in jail overnight.
The ministers called for a public apology from the police and an assurance that "the present abuse by the police will stop forthwith".
Pastor Joseph Munemo, secretary of the National Pastors Conference, described their arrest as "very serious".
"The police are provoking church leaders and trying to frighten us from carrying out our duties," he said.
"We just wanted to hand over our petition."
Bishop Trevor Manhanga said the arrests would "strengthen the resolve of the church to stop police abuse of power.
"The police cannot cow the church into silence".
Bishop Manhanga, president of the Evangelical Fellowship of Zimbabwe, was arrested two weeks ago when he tried to speak at a church function.
"We have not broken any law, we are just carrying out our role to be the conscience of the nation," he said.
"We cannot be silent in the face of violence and torture. The church must be the ears for those who cannot hear, the eyes for those who cannot see and the voice of the voiceless.
"We are taking up our man date to call for a stop to this harassment and intimidation."
In Zimbabwe's second city, Bulawayo, the Catholic Archbishop Pius Ncube, an outspoken critic of the Mugabe government, was warned by the police at his cathedral offices not to make political statements in his sermons.
The warning was made after seven victims of alleged state-sponsored torture made statements at a service he conducted on Thursday night.
"They [the police] pointed out that the service should purely be of a religious nature and not mention aspects critical of government," the archbishop said.
He said he had told the police that it was impossible to separate issues of hunger, economic hardship and violence from religion.
"If people are suffering the church cannot excuse itself."
Harare: A human rights activist was ordered on Thursday to renounce New
Zealand nationality she has never taken up or lose the right to citizenship of
Zimbabwe, the country of her birth.
Supreme court judge Luke Malaba refused Judith Todd's application for a Zimbabwe passport and gave her two days to give up the citizenship of New Zealand which she says she does not have.
Todd, 57, had argued she never possessed New Zealand citizenship and so did not need to renounce it under Zimbabwe citizenship laws passed in 2001 that banned dual nationality.
She is the daughter of the late Sir Garfield Todd, a New Zealand-born missionary and human rights activist who was prime minister of southern Rhodesia - now Zimbabwe - from 1953 to 1958. Malaba found that Todd had broken Zimbabwe's new citizenship laws by not renouncing the foreign nationality she was entitled to.
Chief juustice Godfrey Chidyausiku, a self-avowed ruling party loyalist, and judge Verna Ziyambi agreed to the ruling.
Malaba said Todd had argued she had fought for human rights and free expression in Zimbabwe and it was demeaning and compromising to have to renounce citizenship of a country to which she did not belong.
The ruling was seen as a test case for tens of thousands of Zimbabweans who had not used their forebears' foreign nationality. - Sapa-AP