I have always admired and continue to admire the various Zimbabwean focused human rights and civil society organisations active in protest in the UK advocating for positive change in Zimbabwe. Whether or not the UK based activity emanates from well-established groups, newly formed ones or even via emergence of social media based activity, the efforts are admirable nonetheless.
Regardless of the reasons for any “ disagreements” which are in the public domain between various groups in the UK, the first thought for someone who represents politically active Zimbabwean asylum claimants in the UK is this: how does this affect my client’s asylum claim? What position will the Home Office take publicly or internally having regard to what has been put forth in the public domain? If the Home office are to proceed by tactful stealth, will that Home Office Presenting Officer suddenly present without notice a print out online news article on the morning of the appeal hearing seeking unfairly to cast doubt upon the bona fides of my client’s asylum claim? How does this affect my client’s credibility?
On the other hand, one might ask: what actual tangible results do these UK based protests engender for the Zimbabwean asylum claimant in the UK?
Over the years, I have come across Zimbabwean asylum claimants in activism via various UK based groups having their asylum claims refused, subsequently winning their appeals and with this leading to settlement in the UK. Such persons are making a positive contribution to the UK, socially and economically. Some Zimbabwean nationals who have been granted refugee status do not down tools, but graduate from protests outside Zimbabwe House combining this with social media activity etc.
Some years ago, a client from Zimbabwe approached me and told me that she was part of a protest based organization in the UK. She gave me their name. I had never heard of them. She came to me when her asylum claim had been refused and wished to appeal the refusal of her claim. I looked at the letter of support she had provided. I thought this will never work. Who were they? I had never heard of them, I had no idea what they were about and I felt I could never justify enabling this client to obtain legal aid to proceed with this appeal. I must confess my ignorance at the time in relation to this group- all I had been used to from 2002, a year when the UK authorities were in effect almost routinely dishing out grants of refugee status to Zimbabwean nationals, was assisting progression of Zimbabwean asylum claims associated with just one well – known political party in Zimbabwe. In particular in 2002, the password required to be given to the Home Office upon arrival in the UK seemed to be, “ I am Zimbabwean and I am a member of the MDC”, and a grant of settlement as a refugee usually followed after asylum interview.
Having regard to the appealing client, one of my thoughts was that the Immigration Judge hearing the appeal would certainly need to be convinced of the credibility of this group, what it stood for and how it could be said the client’s association with the group would place her at risk on return to Zimbabwe. Once the client left the office I went straight to “google”. Suffice to say by the time we left that appeal hearing, we knew the appeal had been won- the Immigration Judge nodded approvingly whilst the client gave evidence and by the time matters came to oral submissions, whilst referring to the sourced background evidence regarding that particular group, the success of the appeal was evident. This is but one example where a genuine active Zimbabwean protester in the UK was able to obtain leave to remain as a refugee in the UK.
The same methods of research in relation to sourcing appropriate background evidence that applied to that group years ago, applies even now to all other newly established protest groups etc.
Theoretically speaking, can a resultant seeming tarnshiment of a protest group inevitably lead to a jaundiced view being cast upon all other similar protest groups? After all on the surface, to the observant outsider, the visible active methods of protest appear to be the same directed mainly towards the same target. Here then is where caution should lie.
Above all, where any public disagreements continue, what position might the Home Office take when considering asylum claims from UK based politically active Zimbabwean nationals? The Home Office are not blind – they undertake independent research outwith the current country information reports in their consideration of individual asylum claims. Will the next Country Information Report deliberately incorporate such published disagreements even long past resolution or falling away of the issues? The Home Office may not hesitate to report upon disagreements between UK based human rights organisations/protest groups especially if a spike occurs in claims from politically active Zimbabwean claimants in the UK in light of the forthcoming elections in 2018. After all, the Home Office have over the past years sought to incorporate into previous Reports, disagreements within Zimbabwean opposition groups :
“17.39 Africa Research Bulletin (volume 43 number 1), dated 1–31 January 2006 states that:
“Zimbabwe’s opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) has split into two parties, Welshman Ncube, the MDC’s secretary-general, said on January 12th. ‘It’s self-evident that we have parallel parties now. The issue is which of the two groups is the lawful and legal MDC.’ Mr Ncube’s dissident faction appointed MP Gibson Sibanda as its acting president; and plans to elect a new president at a congress in late February. In tacit acknowledgement that there are now two parties, some of its members are calling it the Pro-Democracy MDC.
“Morgan Tsvangirai, who still claims to be MDC president and retains mass support in urban areas across Zimbabwe, plans to hold his own national congress on March 18th–19th. Formerly one of Africa’s best organised opposition parties, the MDC has split over tactical issues and claims by Mr Tsvangirai’s opponents that he has condoned violence and ignored the will of party members. Mr Tsvangirai has rejected the claims…
“Dissident party members… criticised Mr Tsvangirai for his leadership style, including a reliance on an unelected ‘kitchen cabinet’ that took decisions without consulting elected party officials. The dissident faction claims Mr Tsvangirai scuppered an investigation into allegations that he deployed youth activists to beat up dissident party members, comparing him with Robert Mugabe, the country’s autocratic president…Since nearly winning a majority in parliament five years ago, the MDC has seen its influence wane. Sympathetic critics say it has failed to capitalise on Mr Mugabe’s unpopularity. The opposition has seen its representation in parliament fall over a series of elections that it, and some independent observers, claimed were rigged. The MDC also failed to exploit the discontent caused by the government’s mass evictions campaign in mid-2005 in which 700,000 people lost their homes.” – Zimbabwe COI Report June 2007.
The obvious practical question is this: how do any such disagreements help the genuinely active UK based Zimbabwean asylum claimant? How does all this assist the asylum claimant who is in genuine active participation within such groups now or the one who is considering joining the protest for change whilst in the UK?
Will that active claimant who is seeking to present his asylum claim or appeal tomorrow react with joy, alarm or hopelessness upon reception of such disagreements?