The British government on Wednesday night deported 14 Zimbabwean nationals, who were described by the Home Office in London as convicted foreign criminals, following what it said was a historic landmark agreement between the two nations to send some Zimbabweans back home.
In a tweet, the Home Office said the deportees were sentenced to a combined total of over 75 years in prison for various crimes, including rape and murder.
The British government, which has deported 7,985 foreign criminals from the United Kingdom since January 2019, says it wants to keep its communities safe from criminals. Indications are that the country is planning to deport at least 150 Zimbabweans per month, especially those that have committed serious offences and failed asylum seekers.
The 14 arrived at the Robert Gabriel Mugabe International Airport early Thursday morning and were whisked away in two buses to a quarantine center in Zimbabwe’s capital city, Harare. According to attorneys representing some of the deportees, initially, 50 Zimbabweans were supposed to be deported Wednesday but a number of lawyers intervened, resulting in court injunctions stopping or deferring their deportations in fear that they could be victimized in Zimbabwe by state security agents as they are opposition activists.
In an interview with journalists in Harare, Zimbabwe’s Foreign Affairs Minister, Frederick Shava, dismissed victimization claims by political activists and attorneys representing some of the deportees, saying they won’t be harmed by President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government.
In a tweet, Zimbabwe’s Information Secretary, Nick Mangwana, also welcomed the returnees, saying those who commit crimes will be locked up at the dreaded Chikurubi Prison, a few kilometers away from Harare.
““… 14 Zimbabweans arrived today. They have been taken to ZIPAM (Zimbabwe Institute of Administration and Personnel Management). They will have COVID-19 tests and quarantined for 10 days. After being Covid-19 cleared they will join their families and communities. We welcome these fellow citizens home. They will be safe and the same opportunities availed to everyone else will be available to them.
“We have always accepted our criminals back. We hope those that did their time have been adequately rehabilitated. Should they offend then they will learn that Chikurubi is not Belmarsh prisons. Not everybody is a business talent. Should they be placed ahead of the Zimbabweans already here?”
One of the attorneys representing the deportees, Andrew Nyamayaro said they stopped the flight carrying the Zimbabweans last night for a couple of hours but some of their clients lost the fight to stay in Britain.
Nyamayaro said, “Yesterday there was a deportation of Zimbabweans from the United Kingdom. Originally, it was 50 people that were intended to be deported but after some legal fight some got injunctions, some had removal orders deferred and some had other reasons why they could not be returned to Zimbabwe. There was also a last minute case that went into court around 6:00pm U.K. time and around 8:30pm it was finished which said that the charter flight can proceed but people that had been interviewed for travel documents by the Home Office personal are at risk of persecution if they get to Zimbabwe.
“So, the charter flight was scheduled for 10:00pm but the judge said it can leave after 10:30pm to give a chance to anyone who was on board who was interviewed by the Zimbabwean authorities in the U.K. to leave the plane and then to return to the detention center. I think they did that process. Most lawyers, including ourselves, we then tried to get in touch with the people that had been intended to leave the country but because when they leave the deportation center their mobile phones are taken off them, we could not contact them. It was confirmed this morning that 14 people have now been deported to Zimbabwe and as we speak they are being taken to a quarantine center in Harare at a place called ZIPAM. That’s where they are going to do their isolation there.”
He said at one of the detention center there was an outbreak of COVID-19 and some of the people who had contact with those with the disease were left at the center.
“People should leave the country in their own volition but unfortunately it was not the case for these 14.”
He said Britain wants to deport about 100 people per month, who committed crimes and those that don’t have legal documents to remain in the country.
On the deportation of the 14 deemed to be criminals by the British, Nyamayaro said, “It’s a balancing exercise. Once someone has committed an offence, it’s the severity of the offences, first offender or when the crime was committed. Some of the people who were deported arrived in the U.K. when they were young and were convicted of drugs cases.”In Harare, video footage of their arrivals monitored on several digital and social media platforms from Washington, showed a couple of people boarding two buses with police monitoring their movements.