‘They have set up intelligence across the country’: Asylum seeker says she fears for her safety if sent home to Zimbabwe

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EAST MIDLANDS: A woman who fears for her safety if she is sent ‘home’ to Zimbabwe is fighting for the right to remain in Rutland.

Olive Ruvimbo Ruzvidzo’s life has been in limbo for nine years because the UK Home Office has rejected her asylum applications.

But the 49-year-old, who lives in Uppingham, openly opposes the Zimbabwean government and fears she will be interrogated and potentially jailed without trial if she is forced to return to her country of birth.

“Zimbabwe has been run by the Zimbabwe African National Union (Zanu) since 1980 and they have set up intelligence across the country,” said Olive.

“Anyone who opposes them is not viewed kindly.”

Olive worked in hotels and conferencing in Zimbabwe, providing hospitality to clients that included the country’s government – and opposition groups.

‘I want people to understand why I’m seeking asylum’

It was in 2015, while visiting her family in Britain, that incidents back home were brought to her attention.

Weighing up her uneasiness about the developing situation at home, and the fact she would be leaving behind her career, her home and her life, Olive took the decisive step of claiming asylum in the UK.

Her initial case was heard in 2016 in a court in Birmingham. The judge threw out her claim, saying it amounted to a wish for economic asylum and that Zimbabwe was safe enough to return to.

She appealed against the decision at the end of that year and was awaiting the result when her life was thrown into even greater turmoil.

“I was studying at Leicester College and living in Leicester,” Olive explained. “At 5 o’clock one morning I heard banging on the front door downstairs and when I opened it there were three police officers and an enforcement car.”

The officers came in and started to search the property, while Olive tried to explain that she was awaiting the outcome of an asylum appeal and that all the documents backing this up were on her laptop in the flat.

Olive Ruvimbo Ruzvidzo

“One lady radioed that information through,” said Olive.

“I overheard the response. The person on the other end told her: ‘They all say that. She’s lying’.”

Olive was taken to a police station and then to Yarl’s Wood detention centre in Bedfordshire. While there, she discovered her asylum appeal had been refused.

Instead of having the ability to work and travel as a UK citizen, Olive was given a ticket to leave the country via Heathrow Airport.

But, unknown to her, she was suffering from a chest infection and at the airport suffered a stress-induced asthma attack that resulted in a spell in Hillingdon Hospital.

Olive was returned to Yarl’s Wood for another three weeks, after which a bail application was granted on condition she reside at her mother’s home, did not study or work, and reported every Friday for many weeks to an immigration reporting centre in Loughborough.

In 2020, Olive was given permission to work, and found a job with a software developer in Uppingham. But the permission was for two years and when it expired the UK Government again denied her permission to work.

Olive does not claim benefits and relies on her mother, who still works, and her stepfather, a retired teacher, for financial support.

“In the last nine years I have lived a limited life,” said Olive.

“In Zimbabwe I worked in marketing and ran my own business selling bed linen and similar products.

“Now I am just here in my parents’ home. Not being able to work, or drive, has affected my social life because there is an indignity that goes with not being able to do the things others around me are doing.

“I need to think before accepting invitations – is there is a bus that can get me there? Or I need to ask people for lifts. As a result, I tend not to do anything or go anywhere.

“I turn 50 this year. I’ll soon be at retirement age with nothing to show for it, yet I can contribute to the economy.

“I have committed no crimes. I have done everything requested of me by the Home Office. In return I was given a prisoner number.”

Some people have suggested Olive marries, but she refuses to use a deceitful method of staying in the country, and one that goes against her Christian beliefs.

Her last serious relationship broke down, and she believes her inability to work or travel was a problem.

She currently fills her days with voluntary roles, reading the news for the internet radio station Change Radio Zimbabwe, where she is also head of English news, and features on some programmes run by the station.

She is also an accredited local preacher in the British Methodist Church and preaches within the Stamford circuit.

Olive continues to fight for the right to remain in the UK.

She supports the Zimbabwean opposition party, Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC), which she says has had its political activities curtailed, with members subjected to persecution and extreme violence.

The dismembered body of a CCC activist was found in May last year. Her killer, according to Zimbabwean news, was a Zanu party activist.

Olive also shares that she is concerned a lawyer for the CCC has been locked up in a prison in Zimbabwe’s capital, Harare, for more than 276 days without trial.

Her own support for the opposition party is easily traced by a few seconds of internet searching, and she believes she would be arrested for questioning as soon as she arrived at Harare’s airport.

Olive says she would like people in her community – and in the UK – to understand what it means to be an asylum seeker, especially one from a country that doesn’t often make it onto prime time television and the news.

“I would like people to find out more about countries like Zimbabwe,” she said.

“I would like them to understand why people are seeking asylum, and to write to their local MP asking them to take action.

“The UK Government needs to scrutinise in greater depth what is happening in each country and be sure they are comfortable sending someone back to that place.

“All people need to Google is ‘violence in Zimbabwe’ to know some of what is going on. Then they need to talk about it with others, and hopefully advocate for the ending of human rights abuses.”

Olive has appealed to Rutland MP Alicia Kearns for help, and has the support of her local Methodist church.

The Rev Bekkie Wright, minister of Uppingham, Oakham, Empingham Methodist churches, said: “Suddenly as a church we find ourselves in a position where religion and politics meet and we cannot stay silent.

“By entering the world of refugees and asylum-seekers in the UK, we have been horrified by the treatment they are receiving. We had no idea of the full extent of what is happening.

“The Bible tells us, ‘Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it’.

“Society has become so used to seeing the stranger as a terrorist, a problem, someone coming to take our money and jobs and our way of life. This is wrong.”

The church community, she added, is fighting for Olive to stay.

Mrs Kearns (Con) said: “Olive’s case is extremely complex and that she has previously had her asylum application refused by an immigration judge.

Mrs Kearns explained that deportation will not occur while Olive has reviews in place and that her solicitor is preparing for a judicial review, which is likely to be dealt with in a high court or upper tribunal.

She added: “My team and I have been in regular discussions with relevant lawyers regarding Olive’s case, and have sought expert advice for her, and I am assured she is receiving the legal support she needs.

“I am unable to intervene in a judicial review.”

A spokesman for the Home Office said all asylum applications are considered “on their individual merits in line with the asylum rules and the evidence presented” and that staff do not routinely comment on individual cases.

He added that although Zimbabwe left the Commonwealth in 2003, it remains the hope of the UK Government that it will rejoin and, for this reason, Zimbabwe continues to be considered a Commonwealth country for immigration purposes.

This means people can apply to live and work in the UK under an ancestry visa, if they have a UK-born grandparent.