For those that dared to hope and dream that the July elections in Zimbabwe would result in a win for the opposition…….. it's now time to wake up. ZANU(PF) remains in power.
Whether or not the MDC Alliance will challenge President Emmerson Mnanganwa's triumph over Nelson Chamisa, the practical reality is that ZANU(PF), as usual, has floored the opposition and maintained it's tight hold on power.
Mnangagwa's triumph however is bittersweet. The façade of peace and non-violence that he sought to painstakingly present since last November has fully fallen away. It took only 8 months to do so. Just when it was thought the elections would pass peacefully so as to legitimatise a Government brought about by a coup, violence and death came knocking. The ever present monstrous side of ZANU(PF) raised it's ugly head. On 1 August 2018, the Zimbabwean government sanctioned the use of the Zimbabwean army, which with a show of violent force, shot and killed its own citizens. Why? Some opposition supporters had come out in protest over perceived rigging and delays in announcing the Presidential elections results.
News reports following the killings also saw the Zimbabwean authorities launching a crackdown on opposition leaders.
What however is the impact of Mnangagwa's win upon UK based Zimbabwean asylum claimants?
Country Information Note on Zimbabwe:
The current Country Information Note of 30 April 2018 is a bit wish-washy as regards the UK Government's take on Mnangagwa and his government: "While the tone of political rhetoric has been more conciliatory since Mr Mnangagwa came to power, there is a lack of clear and cogent evidence that the government has fundamentally changed the political environment or how it treats those opposed to the state", so concludes the Country policy and information note Zimbabwe: opposition to the government, April 2018 published on 30 April 2018 by the Home Office. As per a previous blog post, New Zimbabwe Home Office Policy Note April 2018 – After Mugabe, no fundamental change to the political environment or treatment of opposition, my view on the Home Office position was that this was, "A cautious and prudent approach by the Home Office, clearly intended to save face should Mnangagwa tire of hiding behind the current façade of well-calculated charm and begin to unleash violence against the opposition in the period before or after the 2018 election results".
It however need only have taken the Home office just two months to await the outcome of the elections held on 30 July 2018 prior to publishing their updated Note following Mugabe' s fall in November 2017. It is now fully apparent that nothing much has really changed in Zimbabwe. ZANU(PF) under Mugabe's previous dictatorship or Mnangagwa's rule: the difference is the same. Intolerance and violent suppression of political dissent still prevail.
In summary and as still currently relevant, the April 2018 Information Note raises the following among other issues, in relation to those potentially at risk on return:
- Persons involved in actual or perceived opposition activities include members or supporters of political parties, protestors, journalists, civil society activists and teachers.
- Opposition parties continue to operate and represent a challenge to the government.
- Demonstrations about the government's management of the economy are seen by the authorities as politically-motivated, even though people without strong political views have taken part. The police have historically sometimes used excessive force to disperse demonstrators and people have been arrested and detained under public order offences for a few days.
- It is unlikely that a person will be at risk on return purely for having taken part in demonstrations. However, those organising a demonstration may be at risk if the government perceives them to be political agitators. This will depend on their profile, activities and past experiences with the authorities.
- The authorities use legal restrictions to impede or interfere with the activities of civil society organisations and human rights defenders perceived to be critical of the government. Prominent activists, who are vocal in their criticism of the government, may be at risk of serious harm or persecution.
- Social Medial inspired Groups: The Freedom House 'Freedom on the Net 2017' report stated: 'Citizens have increasingly turned to digital tools to engage in activism and mobilize for political and social issues in the past few years…" The Freedom House 'Freedom in the World 2018' report stated: 'In October 2017, the ministry for Cyber Security, Threat Detection, and Mitigation was established, with the government saying it was needed to respond to threats against the state posed by the purported abuse of social media…".
The UK Government will need to update its Note on Zimbabwe. There is considerably much more fodder as regards the abounding political violence in Zimbabwe and persecution of members of the opposition under the guise of the Zimbabwean government seeking to maintain peace and order.
Pending publication of a new Note, considerable background evidence is now in the public domain in relation to the current political situation in Zimbabwe. Such evidence can be relied upon by those seeking protection from the UK government.
Country Guidance caselaw:
Paragraph 2.2.2 of the April 2018 Home Office Information Note summaries the position in relation to the current country guidance caselaw, " In the case of CM (EM country guidance; disclosure) Zimbabwe, heard in October 2012 and promulgated in January 2013, (which modified the Country Guidance in of EM & others (Returnees) Zimbabwe, heard in October 2010/January 2011 and promulgated in March 2011), the Upper Tribunal found that in general there is significantly less politically-motivated violence in Zimbabwe compared with the situation considered by the Asylum Immigration Tribunal in RN (Returnees) Zimbabwe, heard in September/October 2008 and promulgated in November 2008. In particular, the evidence does not show that, in general, the return of a failed asylum seeker from the United Kingdom, having no significant MDC profile, would result in that person facing a real risk of having to demonstrate loyalty to ZANU-PF (para 215 (1)".
There is therefore a focus on a claimant having a "significant MDC profile", however it may be that CM(Zimbabwe), country guidance caselaw which was published 5 years ago, needs revisiting by the Upper Tribunal so as to also properly take into account developments in the intervening years: such as the emergence of social media activism and the diaspora protest movement as more relevant factors to be considered when assessing risk on return to Zimbabwe.
Continuing or starting a new asylum claim ?
An asylum claim must have some substance to it- simply relying upon general country conditions will not suffice. Vague, unparticularised claims lacking detail will not result in a grant of protection.
Some relevant issues to consider are as follows:
Is the claimant politically active in the UK as a member of the MDC or other oppositionist party?
Has the claimant been genuinely involved in protest with civic or human rights organisation against Mnangagwa and ZANU(PF)?
There is nothing to stop a Zimbabwean claimant who is in genuine fear for their safety from continuing or putting forward an asylum claim in the UK.
Enforced returns for the non – consenting undocumented Zimbabwean:
In the absence of other official sources indicating to the contrary, the current position still remains that the Zimbabwean Embassy, "will only issue a travel document where the individual is returning voluntarily and has signed a disclaimer in their presence to that effect". See the Country returns guide: July 2018 published on 19 July 2018 by the Home Office.
On 24 June 2018, I sent a request for information under the Freedom of Information Act 2000, asking that the Home Office clarify the following:
- Following the discussions between the UK and Zimbabwean governments in February 2018, has agreement been reached between the UK Government and the Zimbabwean Government in relation to whether the Zimbabwean authorities will agree to issue Emergency Travel Documents for non-consenting undocumented Zimbabwean returnees who are without valid national passports?
- Are officials from the Zimbabwean Embassy attending upon and interviewing non- consenting undocumented Zimbabwean detainees who are without valid Zimbabwean passports?
- Are telephone interviews or meetings being arranged by the Home Office between Zimbabwean Embassy officials and non – consenting undocumented Zimbabwean nationals who are without valid Zimbabwean passports?
- Where removals are taking place following any unpublished agreements between the UK and Zimbabwean government on repatriation or enforced returns of non-consenting undocumented Zimbabwean nationals, how many enforced removals/deportations to Zimbabwe have taken place since any such agreements with the Zimbabwean Embassy/Government? "Enforced Returns of non- consenting undocumented Zimbabweans who are without valid national passports", https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/enforced_returns_of_non_consenti
A Response from the UK Government is long overdue, with stated reasons on 25 July 2018 being that, " this is due to internal delays with our FOI process". It therefore remains to be seen, which if any, of the questions raised will be addressed by the Home Office in response, however the urgent issue now is not whether persons can forcibly be removed to Zimbabwe but how soon new asylum claims can be registered or fresh claims submitted to the Home Office.