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Zimbabweans - new Country Guidance in EM, and developments on Article 8

Written by
Mark Symes
Date of Publication:
15 March 2011

The decision in EM Zimbabwe of 14 March 2011 changes the prevailing situation of Zimbabwe asylum seekers. From 19 November 2008 until 13 March 2011, RN Zimbabwe prevailed, meaning that the critical issue for a person whose primary asylum claim had failed, and now relied on the general country evidence, was whether they could show loyalty to the Zanu-PF regime, in circumstances where they might face roadblocks at which their knowledge of the party's songs and propaganda might be tested. This was the case whether they were from a dense urban area or a rural one. Anyone forced to lie to avoid ill-treatment, whether they were genuine Zanu-PF or not, though, would be suffering persecution: RT Zimbabwe. However, asylum seekers who lacked credibility following the determination of their appeals on asylum grounds might struggle to show they could not demonstrate such loyalty: because the Zimbabwean diaspora could be presumed to include many pro-government supporters, and the more of a person's account was rejected on appeal, the harder it would be for them to show, with their limited remaining credibility, that they were not such a loyalist.

EM dramatically changes this. Given the Tribunal rejects dangers emanating from roadblocks in general, there will be not be "journey" dangers to a home area: so, given returns are generally to Harare, the question then moves to identification of the home area (being the place where they habitually, and presumably most recently, lived, and thus to where they can be expected to return). Those returning to live in Mashonaland West, Mashonaland Central, Mashonaland East, Manicaland, Masvingo or Midlands province, will be at risk if they cannot demonstrate regime loyalty. Returnees to Matabeleland will be unlikely to face difficulties unless they come from a locality where Zanu-PF are powerful. In Harare, only those who return to high-density areas where they have a significant MDC profile are in danger. In Bulawayo, there are no dangers from the Zanu-PF, whatever an individual's profile. For those found to be in danger, whatever their place of return, they will need to show internal relocation is unduly harsh. Whether an individual could re-establish themselves in the informal economy would depend on their personal circumstances: whilst it would not be persecutory to expect them to do so, it might be unduly harsh. Those of Shona ethnicity might find this especially difficult.

All this depends on certain predictions. If the legal protections and safeguards anticipated by the Tribunal as holding out in the event of elections prove illusory, then they themselves acknowledge that their guidance will require re-assessment.

For those with family and private life established in the United Kingdom, the Tribunal gives more comfort. Before treating Zimbabweans simply as overstayers, decision makers must take into account that it is understandable that a failed asylum seeker would be unwilling to return voluntarily to a society so ravaged by violence, insecurity and an absence of sound governance as was Zimbabwe under ZANU-PF. The welfare of any children will be a primary consideration, British citizen or not. Both these factors may make removal disproportionate.