ZIMBABWEANS topped the list of nationalities seeking asylum in the UK for the second year running, with a total of 7,420 asylum applications in 2009, according to the UNHCR’s latest statistical report.
The surge in asylum claims by Zimbabweans bucks the trend in overall UK asylum applications which at 29,800 represents the third lowest figure in 15 years.
The UN refugee agency’s statistical account, Asylum Levels and Trends in Industrialised Countries 2009, showed that asylum applications from the troubled southern African country rose by more than 3,100 over the previous year.
The total number of Zimbabwean asylum claimants is more than double that of the second-ranked country, Afghanistan, which had 3,535 claimants. The Islamic Republic of Iran (2,125), Pakistan (2,035) and Sri Lanka (1,430) completed the top five.
A decision passed by the Asylum and Immigration Tribunal in the country guidance case of RN Zimbabwe in November 2008 occasioned a marked rise in the number of Zimbabweans coming forward to apply for asylum.
The appeals court found that refused asylum seekers from Zimbabwe would be at risk on return to their home country from the UK if they are not able to demonstrate loyalty to the then ruling party, Zanu PF. This favourable ruling came soon after Zimbabwe’s presidential election re-run in June 2008, which was marred by rampant violence against opposition supporters.
In March 2009, the Home Office issued a new Operational Guidance Note for its case workers on Zimbabwe which substantially restricted the criteria for granting asylum. The new policy advised that the main finding of RN Zimbabwe should no longer be followed as improvements in the country situation since the formation of the inclusive government had reduced the level of risk.
Instead, the policy advised that the first category of claims considered as being at risk is now “MDC supporters, human rights defenders and other perceived opponents of Zanu PF”. However, the appeals court still recognises RN Zimbabwe as the current country guidance.
Home Office figures also released recently showed that Zimbabwean asylum seekers registered 3,895 asylum appeals in 2009, more than 60 per cent of the total received from the Africa region in the same year. Of the 2,430 appellants granted leave to remain in the UK, a disproportionate 1,690 were Zimbabweans.
The number of enforced and voluntary departures from the UK totalled 64,750. Removals to Zimbabwe, including irregular migrants, in 2009 amounted to 430, with 160 of these opting to do so through assisted voluntary return.
A total of 470 Zimbabweans also found themselves entering immigration detention centres under Immigration Act powers in 2009.
As debate over dual citizenship in Zimbabwe’s constitutional reform process rages on, thousands of the country’s nationals in the UK are taking up British citizenship. Home Office figures show that Zimbabweans are the fifth highest nationality taking up British citizenship, after India, Pakistan, Iraq and Somalia. In 2008, 5,710 Zimbabweans became British citizens.
Zimbabwean law currently bars the holding of dual citizenship. An overwhelming majority of exiled Zimbabweans favour the re-introduction of dual citizenship. Having received reassurances from the MDC formations that the proposed constitution would guarantee their Zimbabwean citizenship, Zanu PF has put a damper on the hopes of non-residents by proposing that only children born in the Diaspora be allowed dual citizenship.