By Mary Taruvinga
A CAMEROONIAN national, who was jailed last month after he was convicted for contravening Zimbabwe’s Immigration Act, has begged the High Court to order his immediate release and deportation to his conflict hit motherland.
Frank Imani fled from his country back in 2004 and has known no peace after staying in a refugee camp in South Africa for the past 14 years before he moved to Zimbabwe.
Just as he was processing his documents with intentions to move to Canada as an asylum seeker, he was nabbed by local immigration officers before he was charged and convicted.
A Harare magistrate ordered his immediate deportation on November 27 this year, but he is still holed up in Harare Remand Prison where he says living conditions are slowly taking toll on his life.
“I am housed in a filthy and squalid cell where the blankets are infested with vermin, lice and leeches which suck blood 24 hours a day.
“There is no proper ventilation in the cells where we are locked up at 15:00 hrs together with common criminals. The latrines in the cells do not work and the toilets are flushed the day around 7 am, meaning that one would have spent 18 hours enclosed in a small room full of the foul breath of prison mates in a small space also smelling of human excrement,” said Imani.
“During the 18 hours I am locked up at Harare Remand Prison, my heart pumps a lot and I labour in breathing. When I was in South Africa, they avoided putting me in closed places due to this distress,” he added.
Imani is seeking a fast-tracked deportation.
“There is no other alternative relief available to the applicant and in the unfortunate event that he continues to be incarcerated in Zimbabwe, he will likely die and this violates his rights to life,” said his lawyer Bright Mugombeza.
Imani says he has a hole in his heart and his condition requires constant check-ups by a Cardiothoracic Surgeon.
He also told court that he uses blood thinners as well as medication which allows excretion of toxins through sweat and urination to avoid congestive heart failure and cardiac arrest.
Imani also said he suffers from Claustrophobia which is fear of enclosed spaces as a result of his experiences back home, where they were locked in small rooms for three days to avoid being hurt or persecuted by militias who attacked their villages.
Through his lawyer, Imani also argued that his continued detention as a refugee impelled to take shelter in Zimbabwe is in breach of the United Nations Convention relating to the status of refugees.
He cited the chief immigration officer, Home Affairs Minister Kazembe Kazembe and Labour and Social Welfare Minister.
Imani begged for his immediate release saying he is able to sponsor his trip back to Cameroon without relying on state funds.
Reliving his ordeal, Imani said he was born in Banga Village, in Southern Cameroon in 1984 and lived there until his parents passed away in 2004.
He said suddenly, there was conflict and the country was also battling Boko Haram Jihadists in the North of its border with Nigeria.
There was also an influx of refugees from the Central Africa Republic in the East but most devastating was the Anglophone crisis in the West and near his village.
His application says in 2004, the nation was in a bloody equilibrium.
“Several militias were making indiscriminate attacks on plantations and government, in a crackdown, used heavy handed methods to control the conflict,” he said in his founding affidavit.
When the conflict got intense, Imani fled to South Africa in 2004 when he was aged 20.
Imani said later the situation in his country improved leading to the South African Commission for Refugees refusing to extend his asylum status.
Fearing to return home, he then fled to Zimbabwe.
“I was fearful of returning home where I was advised security forces are still fighting the separatists. There was also an outbreak of contagious diseases like monkey pox and measles as well as continued fighting with separatists.
He said he was referred to a consultant while still in Johannesburg who advised him against staying in South Africa.
Imani said the consultant offered to assist with travel documents from Malta which he said was a safe haven for a lot of North and Western refugees.
He said he then left for Zimbabwe intending to stay briefly whilst seeking asylum to Canada and that’s when he got arrested.
He was later convicted and fined $300 on November 27 before the state was ordered to deport him but he is still languishing in Harare Remand Prison.
Imani said considering the health crisis in Zimbabwe, it was better for him to go back home than to stay and wait for his death.
The judges are yet to entertain his urgent application.