On 13 January, over four hundred Zimbabweans gathered in Westminster to demonstrate for permission to work legally in the UK.
The event publicly launched the Citizens for Sanctuary campaign, organised to implement the findings of the Independent Asylum Commission which recommended that Zimbabweans currently seeking sanctuary in the UK be allowed to work and pay tax. (The review of the UK asylum system was carried out between October 2006 and July 2008 and made 180 recommendations.)
Of the four hundred Zimbabwean refugees attending the demonstration many have been denied political asylum but are unable to return home because of the situation in Zimbabwe. They were joined by MPs from the main political parties, all calling on Gordon Brown to review the situation for destitute Zimbabweans, a promise he made six months ago.
The Citizens for Sanctuary campaign aims to fulfil the Commission’s recommendations to safeguard those seeking asylum here, while restoring public confidence in the UK’s role as a place of sanctuary for those fleeing persecution.
Some of the demonstrators at Downing Street delivered CVs of Zimbabweans ready and willing to contribute to the UK economy. The campaign is highlighting the fact that the asylum system prevents them from working and paying taxes and that vital skills are going to waste. Until it is safe for them to return home, their choice is either to survive on charity or risk criminalisation in the black economy.
The Citizens for Sanctuary campaign seeks not only to mobilise citizens to call for government action, but to involve businesses and public sector organisations in contributing to Zimbabwe’s future. Organisations can offer asylum seekers strategic internships which can help to equip them with the work experience and skills necessary to rebuild their country once it is safe to return.