Three months. That is the amount of time the UK Government gave undocumented Zimbabweans before broaching the subject of enforcing their return following Mugabe’s ouster on 21 November 2017. Time to come down from the lingering false high induced by Mugabe’ s departure, back to a crashing reality and forlorn acceptance that, “Hapana zvambochinja muZimbabwe”, ie nothing much has changed in Zimbabwe.
Apparently, it has been reported by various Zimbabwean media outlets on 13 February 2018, that one of Zimbabwe’s Vice Presidents, Kembo Mohadi met with the British Ambassador to Zimbabwe, Ms Catriona Lang in Harare. An interesting array of subjects came up for discussion, however the one that has made the headlines is an announcement by the British Government of its intention to repatriate some 2500 undocumented Zimbabweans residing in the UK. It has been reported that the Vice President told journalists after the meeting that, “ Zimbabwean has no problems receiving its nationals back but would want them vetted to ensure they are genuine Zimbabweans before taking them back”.
It is no secret, at least from 2010, that the UK government has been keen to enforce removals to Zimbabwe- https://www.gov.uk/government/news/enforced-returns-to-zimbabwe-will-resume. Yesterday’s headlines therefore should not unduly alarm. The persistent problem for the UK Government has been the seeming unsurmountable obstacle erected by the Zimbabwean government whilst under Mugabe’s rule. Since Restrictive Measures were installed in 2002, the Zimbabwean Government has required the returnee’s consent before issuing an emergency travel document ( ETD in ) relation to enforced returns. In practice, to the UK Government’s chagrin, this has meant over the years, that non- consenting Zimbabwean failed asylum seekers, deportees who have exhausted their rights of appeal and those without leave, generally have been irremovable.
The position of the Zimbabwean authorities has therefore been that they will only accept voluntary returnees. The dilemma faced by the UK Government has increasingly been highlighted by successive recent litigation in the UK Courts. Relevant blog articles in this regards are as follows:
Refusing to return to Zimbabwe: Court of Appeal confirms Home Office cannot compel a non-consenting returnee to lie to the Zimbabwean Embassy
Valid Passport with the Home Office? Zimbabweans with no claims still very much removable from the UK
Unlawful detention: Court grapples with the problem of Zimbabwe’s refusal to accept enforced removals from the UK
The Zimbabwean government has stated, as any Government should, that it will accept its own nationals however having regard to the fact that the discussions with the British Ambassador seem to have taken place behind closed doors, the pressing issue is whether it is now a “ done deal” that the Zimbabwean government has as of 13th February 2018 agreed to relax the manner and procedures which it will employ to re-document failed asylum claimants to Zimbabwe.
Issue of a Zimbabwean Emergency Travel Document:
The Country Returns Guide published on 5 February 2018 is relevant and current as at that date for consideration in relation to seeking to ascertain the minimum requirements applicable before the Zimbabwean Government will issue an Emergency Travel Document https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/country-returns-guide
4 photographs of passport standard, cut to size
Supporting evidence, if available
Full UK birth certificate must be provided for children born in the UK
All supportive evidence accompanying a travel document must be translated into English
The Guide is currently clear that , “The Embassy will only issue a travel document where the individual is returning voluntarily and has signed a disclaimer in their presence to that effect”.
A travel document issued would be valid for 6months.
As regards applications for a Temporary Travel Document, Information from the Zimbabwean Embassy website currently states, http://www.zimlondon.gov.zw/index.php/consular-services/applying-for-a-temporary-travel-document:
Application for a Temporary Travel Document.
Please be advised that a Temporary Travel Document can ONLY be applied for in person at the Embassy, in emergency circumstances, where the Zimbabwe Passport is not available for travel. All TTDs are now issued on condition that the applicant applies for a passport with the Embassy as well.
Applicants are required to bring along the following:
Old/Expired Passport (if lost, applicants are required to produce a Police Report or a letter from the Home Office);
Long Birth Certificate;
National Identity Card (Paper type, metal type or plastic type)
Two Passport sized colour photographs, and
£80 in Cash or Postal Order
Where applying for Zimbabwean passport, the relevant information is as follows, http://www.zimlondon.gov.zw/index.php/consular-services/requirements-for-passport-application:
Requirements for application for a Zimbabwean passport
Please be advised that applicants need to COME in person and submit your application form because applicants need to have their fingerprints taken at the Embassy
The following documents are required when submitting the application form:
1.Original and photocopy of Zimbabwean Long Birth Certificate;
2.Original and photocopy of National Identity Card (ID)(Paper type, metal type or plastic type), for those who turn 16. Kindly be advise that all Zimbabwean children who have turned 16 years of age are required to obtain Zimbabwe National Registration Cards (IDs), by law, before they can apply for Zimbabwe Passports.The registration cards can only be obtained by going to Zimbabwe to make the application in person.
3.Marriage Certificate and photocopy, (for married women – ID should be in married name);
4.Proof of Citizenship, if claiming citizenship in Zimbabwe by Descent, Registration or Naturalisation;
5.Old/Expired Passport plus photocopy of bio-data page for new type passport or pages 1 to 5 for old-type Passport or letter from Home Office;
6.A fee of £65 in Cash or Postal Order
Children below 18 years should be accompanied by either parents or Legal Guardian, with I.D card or valid Passport to sign Section 5 of the Passport form;
Parents and Legal Guardians of children below 18 years whose dependents are not resident in the United Kingdom need to sign Section 5 at the Embassy and send it to their dependents.
2 x colour photographs of 4.5cm long by 3.5cm wide dimensions, taken from a studio with a WHITE background and applicants should wear DARK coloured upper clothes.
Consular Office is open between 09:00am and 12:30pm, Monday to Friday.
INFORMATION REGARDING PROCESSING OF PASSPORT APPLICATIONS
All passport applicants please take note of the following information:
1.Processing of passport application, including payment of processing fee is done in Zimbabwe. This procedure can either be done by the applicant when he/she travels to Zimbabwe or by a third party nominee residing in Zimbabwe who is a relative of the applicant.
2.It is the responsibility of the applicant to send the application form to Zimbabwe for processing.
3.Passport application forms can be processed at any nearest Passport Office in Zimbabwe. NB: all emergency passports (one day) are processed in Harare.
4.Passport processing fees to be paid at the Passport Office in Zimbabwe are:
o US$50 for a passport that is processed in six weeks
o US$250 for a passport that is processed in two weeks
o US$315 for a passport that is processed in one day.
A complete passport application form to be sent to Zimbabwe should consist of the following documents:
the stamped passport application form (P1)
certified copies of birth certificate, I.D. and relevant pages of the old passport; including the page affixed the visa sticker/ proof of residence
stamped passport size photos
original receipt issued by the Embassy (retain a copy)
the letter authorising your nominee to submit the application and also collect the new passport once it is issued.
Once the new passport is ready for collection, the applicant is required to tender the old passport to the Embassy for cancellation and then fax copies of the cancelled passport to the nominee to enable him/her to collect the new passport.
Potential Impact of the “Announcement”:
There is no shield against removals of failed asylum seekers to Zimbabwe where they have no pending claims/applications/appeals. That “ protection” has not been there for several years, however the concern is that where the Zimbabwean government has agreed to relax the procedure for the issue of emergency travel documents e.g by not requiring a person’s consent before issue of such a document, then the Home office will be in a position to detain and remove much more quickly.
The risk of detention and removal is most high for those who report yet have no pending claims.
Where a failed asylum seeker has pending further submissions, such a claim could be refused without a right of appeal and the person simultaneously served with the decision upon reporting with detention also being effected.
In circumstances where an Article 8, human rights private and family life application is made but refused and certified, with either no right of appeal or an out-of-country right of appeal provided, again the Home Office can chose to serve a decision with detention occurring at the same time.
A readiness to issue emergency travel documents by the Zimbabwean Embassy further affects the success of bail applications for Zimbabwean nationals who are detained. Where the Home office are able to argue on the facts of a specific case that removal is imminent due to recent issue of a travel document by the Zimbabwean authorities, or an expectation of issue of such a document within a fairly short time, then a Tribunal Judge may be hesitant in granting bail.
It is important to remember that each case is considered on its own merits- even where a refusal decision is served, say with no right of appeal, a claim for judicial review may be pursued seeking to obtain an in-country right of appeal. A stay on removal may also be obtained via judicial review proceedings. A prolonged detention can be challenged by way of judicial review. A bail application to the Tribunal to obtain release from detention will also be one of the first issues for consideration A further leave to remain application, where relevant can always be submitted following a previous refusal decision.
How does the announcement concern claims for asylum from Zimbabwean nationals?
The current issues in play concern how readily and reasonably quickly the UK government can procedurally take steps to enforce a removal to Zimbabwe for persons without current Zimbabwean passports. It has always been the case for several years now that those with current valid Zimbabweans are being removed where they have been found to have no further basis of stay in the UK. Issues regarding whether or not a person can submit a new claim for asylum, protection based further submissions and matters of risk of return are not affected – these are matters that Mohadi could not have contributed to in any meaningful way on 13 February 2018. It is for UK based Home Office Caseworkers to make decisions on registered asylum claims emanating from Zimbabwean nationals.
Is it in order that the British authorities would consider it appropriate at this juncture to seek to open up the subject of Zimbabwean mass removals when elections due this year have not yet been held? Mnangagwa has promised free, fair and credible elections, however whether the issue of violence from ZANU(PF) and the army can be contained immediately before or after the elections is another matter.
Perhaps the announcement on returns is an indicator of whether a new Home office Zimbabwe Country Information Note due to published by the Home Office, has restricted even further the categories of those that might be considered at risk on return to Zimbabwe. Time will tell, however for now, in relation to those who are undocumented who have not yet taken steps to regularise their status, so was to avoid the distress, alarm and shock that an unexpected detention brings, it might be prudent to ensure there is a viable and effective claim pending with the Home Office.