Zimbabweans and Protection: Is There Any Point In Advancing an Asylum Protection Claim in The UK?

Seemingly,  on the basis of the current Zimbabwean country guidance caselaw  as it relates to protection  claims based on political opinion(actual or imputed), sexuality and medical condition cases, unless the claim is accompanied by compelling evidence both on a subjective level and objectively, chances  of success,  whether  on application or at appeal appear to be  but a mere hope.

Despite having an applicant’s account  set out in the substantive asylum interview and perhaps in addition via a supportive signed ststement, the Home Office are aware that the best bits in starting to  tear apart  an applicant’s credibility is to repeat a summary of the claim at the beginning of the refusal decision  in a way that usually bears little resemblance to the tone and tenor of the claim as initially set forth by the applicant.  Having ensured  during the substantive interview that that interview does not end until some seeming inconsistencies within the applicant’s responses have recorded, the casting of  considerable doubt on the factual claim itself will then follow.  The  refusal decisions have now  become “refined” enough to the point that those aspects that are not believed are now set out under actual headings.   A standard copy and paste of the headnote in CM(Zimbabwe) then takes the best part of three pages, to be followed with the  regurgitated conclusion that the applicant has no high  political profile or if he has one can safely relocate,  usually in Bulawayo or Harare. Upon receipt of the refusal decision, an applicant cannot be blamed if left  with considerable doubt as to whether the immigration Tribunal will accept any aspect of the claim on appeal.

POSSIBLE HEADS OF CLAIM

  • Asylum- Actual or Imputed Political Opinion:

The case of CM(EM Country Guidance; disclosure ) Zimbabwe CG (2013) UKUT 00059 concludes in essence that as a general matter, there is significantly less politically motivated violence in Zimbabwe compared with the situation considered by the AIT in RN(2008). In particular the evidence does not show that as a general matter, 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).  CM noted however that the position is likely to be otherwise in the case of a person returning from the UK after significant absence to a rural area of Zimbabwe, other than Matebeleland North or Matabeleland South. Such a person may well find it difficult to avoid adverse attention, amounting  to serious ill-treatment, from ZANU(PF authority figures and those they control. The adverse attention may well involve a requirement to demonstrate loyalty to ZANU(PF) with the prospect of serious harm in the event of failure. CM found in general that those returning to rural areas of Matebeleland North or Matebeleland South would be highly unlikely to face significant difficulty from ZANU(PF) elements including the security forces even if the returnee is an MDC member or supporter. A person may however be able to show that his village or area is one  that unusually is under the sway of a ZANU(PF) chief,  or the like. Those returning to all other rural areas from the UK without ZANU(PF) connections after a significant absence would face a real risk of persecution because of continuing risk of being required to demonstrate loyalty to ZANU(PF) with the prospect of serious harm in the event of failure. In regard to major urban areas, a returnee to Harare will face difficulties living in high density areas not faced by those living in other urban areas and those persons perceived to be active in MDC politics may face risk of targeted reprisals.   A returnee to Harare will in general face no significant difficulties if going to a low-  density  or medium- density area. Whilst the socio-economic situation in high- density areas is more challenging, in general a person without ZANU(PF) connection will not face significant problems there (including a loyalty test ) unless he has a significant MDC profile which might cause him or her to feature on a list  of those targeted for harassment or would otherwise engage in activities likely to attract the adverse attention of ZANU(PF)  or would be reasonably likely to engage   in such activities but for fear of thereby coming to the adverse attention of  ZANU(PF ).  A returnee  to Bulawayo will in general not suffer the adverse attention of ZANU(PF) including the security forces even if he does have a significant MDC profile.

Those who are or have been teachers are at a heightened risk of illtreatment.  The heightened  risk associated with being a teacher should be considered alongside the  individual circumstances of each case.

The issue of what is a person’s home area  for the purposes of internal relocation is to be decided as a matter of fact.  As a general matter,  it is unlikely that a person with a well founded fear of persecution in a major urban centre such as a Harare will have a viable internal relocation alternative to a rural area in the Eastern province if they have no connection there. Harare or Bulawayo may be a more realistic option for relocation of a person facing risk of persecution in rural Zimbabwe as long as such relocation would not be unduly harsh on the facts of the individual case. Relocation  to Matabeleland(including) Bulawayo) may be unduly harsh because of the risk of discrimination where the returnee is Shona.

Having regard to the guidance in CM,  in essence, unless  an applicant is able to show a political profile high enough to satisfy that they will be at risk on return and/or  are also able to pass the “geographical” filter, then chances of success in an asylum claim based on political opinion  appear limited.

Matters were not made any easier by  the  next case which followed relating to issues of risk on return in relation to  teachers.   NN(Teachers: Matebeleland/ Bulawayo: risk) Zimbabwe CG ( 2013) UKUT 00198(IAC) decided that a teacher will not face a heightened risk on return on account of his occupation alone if his destination of return is (a) rural Matebeleland North or Matebeleland South where a returnee will in general not face a real risk of harm from ZANU(PF)  elements including the security forces even if he is a MDC supporter or member, or (b)  Bulawayo where the returnee will in general not face such a risk even if he has a significant MDC profile.

  • Asylum – Claim based on Sexuality:

Despite acknowledging that there  had much public expression of extreme homophobia at the highest level in recent years; that male homosexual behaviour is criminalised; that some homosexuals suffer discrimination, harassment, and blackmail from the general public and police and that the police and other state agents do not provide protection, the Tribunal in LZ(homosexuals) Zimbabwe CG 2011 UKUT 00487 IAC concluded,  applying the Supreme Court case of HJ &HT (2010) UKSC 31, 2010 Imm AR 729, that there is no general risk to gays or lesbians in Zimbabwe.  The Tribunal observed that  prosecutions in relation to homosexual behaviour was rare; there were no records of any murder with a homophobic element; attempted extortion,  false complaints and unjustified detentions are not so prevalent as to pose a general risk; there is a gay scene within limitations; GALZ took a view that Zimbabwe “was not the worst place in the world to be gay or lesbian even though the President, government officials and church leaders have whipped up a climate of hysterical homophobia”.

The Tribunal considered that personal circumstances place some gays and lesbians at risk. Although not decisive on its own, being openly gay may increase risk. A positive HIV/AIDS diagnosis may be a risk factor. The Tribunal also found that a  homosexual at risk in his community could move elsewhere either in the same city or to another part of the country. He might chose to relocate to where there is greater tolerance, such as Bulawayo, but the choice of a new area is not restricted. The option is excluded only if personal circumstance present risk throughout the country.

It may therefore be possible for an applicant to show that they are gay but fail on the claim on the basis that there is a reasonable internal flight option within Zimbabwe.

  • Article 3 of the ECHR- Medical Condition, HIV:

The case of RS and Others (Zimbabwe- AIDS-Zimbabwe CG( 2010) UKUT 363,(IAC) found that the return to Zimbabwe of a Zimbabwean diagnosed with HIV does not place the United Kingdom in breach of its obligations under the Disability Discrimination Act.  The Tribunal considered that a significant number of people are receiving treatment for HIV/AIDS in Zimbabwe and hence a Zimbabwe returnee will not succeed  in a claim for international protection on the  basis of diagnosis of HIV/AIDS unless their case crossed the threshold identified in N v United Kingdom.  The Tribunal observed that although there is some evidence  of discrimination in access to AIDS medication and food in Zimbabwe, it is not such as to show a real risk of such discrimination.

OTHER BASIS OF SEEKING PROTECTION

There are many Zimbabweans in the UK who are in genuine activism via human rights  and  civil rights groups such as  Restoration of Human Rights ( ROHR ) Zimbabwe and the Zimbabwe  Vigil.  ROHR clarifies on its website  that it,   ” is a non political organisation whose members are passionate and committed to bringing about change in Zimbabwe. We strongly subscribe to the founding principles of returning Zimbabwe to the apex of humans rights vanguard and an economic power house on regional and international levels.(ROHR ) Zimbabwe is founded in the following objectives: To educate and encourage Zimbabweans to stand together and demand that their  human rights issues be addressed- To encourage active participation of Zimbabweans in governance issues including their constitutional rights- to work closely with other organisations that share the same objectives and values nationally, regionally  and internationally”.

The Zimbabwe Vigil was launched on 12 October 2002 and has been held every Saturday since then outside  Zimbabwe House, London. Vigil petitions focus on human rights abuses and the suppression of democracy in Zimbabwe.

Among other objectives, the Zimbabwean Association maintains links with groups in Zimbabwe working to improve the situation in the country. The Zimbabwean Association is a non- partisan and independent organisation with no political role in Zimbabwe itself however it has a growing network of groups around the UK providing practical and emotional support to Zimbabwean asylum seekers and refugees.

The case of HS(returning asylum seekers) Zimbabwe CG 2007 UKAIT 00094 is of relevant application for applicants in activism in the UK  and provides in its headnote, ” The Tribunal identifies one further risk category, being those seen to be active in association with human rights or civil organisations where evidence suggests that the particular organisation has been identified by the authorities as a critic or opponent of the Zimbabwe regime”.

Those taking part in vigils, demonstrations and activism  in  the UK in protest against the  human rights situation in Zimbabwe do so for change and if  as part of their activities they   consider that they have been identified by Zimbabwean state  security agents and fear return to Zimbabwe then they should be entitled to international protection in the UK- whether such claims are submitted via an initial asylum claim or by way of further submissions in seeking to advance a fresh claim for asylum.

The Home Office may however seek state that involvement in such activities is opportunistic and  only undertaken to frustrate removal.  They may place reliance upon the case of BA(Demonstrators in British – risk on return) Iran CG 2011 UKUT 36 (IAC) where the  Upper Tribunal set out the factors to be considered when assessing risk on return having regard to sur place activities. The factors include considerations of the theme of the demonstrations; role in demonstrations and political profile; extent of participation; surveillance of demonstrators; regime’s capacity to identify individuals; profile; immigration history and matching identification to person.

Reliance can however be placed upon the case of YB(Eritrea) 2008 EWCA Civ 360, which states at paragraph 18, “Where as here, the tribunal has objective evidence which ” paints  a bleak picture of the suppression of political opponents” by a named government, it requires little or no evidence or speculation to arrive at a strong possibility- and perhaps more- that its foreign  legations not only film  or photograph their nationals who demonstrate against the regime but have informers among expatriate  oppositionist organisation  who can name the people who are filmed or photographed. Similarly it does not require affirmative evidence to establish a probability that the intelligence services of such states monitor the internet for information  about oppositionist groups. The real question in most cases will be what follows for the individual claimant….”.

The Home Office Country Information and Guidance Zimbabwe: Political Opposition to ZANU(PF)- October 2014,  itself confirms that there continue to be reports of ill-treatment of perceived MDC supporters, political activists and perceived government critics. Recent reports for example from Human Rights Watch also  state that the Zimbabwean government continued to  violate human rights without regard to protections in the country’s new constitution.

When  issues of risk on return arise then reliance can be placed once again on the case of HS which states in its headnote that the process of screening returning passengers is an intelligence led process and the state security agents will generally have identified from the passenger manifest in advance, based on such intelligence those passengers in whom there is any possible interest. On that basis,  the factual matrix  applicable to the claimant having been established as regards the issues giving rise to a fear of return, it may be possible to advance an argument that there is no questions of internal relocation as risk will arise at the airport itself upon arrival in Zimbabwe.

  • Gender Based Persecution- Women and Girls:

A woman may have a fear of return to Zimbabwe on account of being subjected to domestic violence, rape or fear of  being subjected to harmful traditional practices such as forced and early marriage or polygamy  which can amount to inhuman and degrading treatment.

The Home Office  Country Information and Guidance Zimbabwe: Women  October 2014  confirms that women in Zimbabwe constitute a particular social group within the meaning of the 1951  UN Refugee Convention because they share a common characteristic that cannot be changed- their gender- and based on an assessment of the country information, they have a distinct identity in Zimbabwe which is perceived as being different by the surrounding society.

The Home Office Guidance summarises that although Zimbabwe has a strong legal frame work for addressing violence against women, laws are not effectively enforced and sexual and gender based violence remain serious and widespread problems. Patriachal attitude and discrimination are prevalent, particularly in the rural areas, and women and girls  can be subjected to harmful traditional practices. The Home Office acknowledge that effective state protection is unlikley to be available for women fearing gender based violence. Internal relocation to avoid gender based violence may be  viable in some limited cases, particularly from rural to urban areas. The Home Office guidance concludes that a women who demonstrates a real risk or reasonable likelihood of ill-treatment on return to Zimbabwe on account of her gender and who is able  to show that she is unable to secure effective protection or relocate elsewhere in Zimbabwe to escape that risk,  will qualify for asylum.

CONCLUSION

Despite the case of  CM(Zimbabwe)  appearing to apply to a  narrow category  of those considered at risk of return to Zimbabwe, each  claim is considered in its own merits and as such where an applicant  has a genuine fear of return and  having regard to the sometimes volatile human rights conditions in Zimbabwe  including the amount of  case-law that has been generated through litigation over the years  as regards risk on return for Zimbabweans, letting the UK authorities aware of a fear on return to Zimbabwe  is essential.

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