Zimbabwe asylum-seekers demand right to work in UK

Hundreds of Zimbabweans took part in a demonstration to demand the right to work in Britain and to acquire the skills needed to rebuild their devastated country. A six-strong delegation went to Brown’s Downing St office with the resumes.

Supporters say around 11,000 Zimbabweans, many of them opponents of President Robert Mugabe, have sought asylum in Britain. Thousands of them have had their applications for asylum refused and fear reprisals if they go home.

The government says people with pending asylum applications may not work as it would encourage others to lodge bogus claims.

"Zimbabweans in this country are in a state of limbo. They should be allowed to work … so that they can go back with skills in their bags once Mugabe has gone," Kate Hoey, a ruling Labour Party lawmaker, told demonstrators.

Protesters, some wrapped in Zimbabwean flags, waved banners saying "No work, no life" and played the drums. Some wore t-shirts backing Zimbabwe’s opposition Movement for Democratic Change or the slogan "Mugabe Go!".

Millions of Zimbabweans have fled, mostly to neighbouring countries, as the economy has collapsed under Mugabe’s 29-year rule. While Mugabe and the opposition are deadlocked over a power-sharing deal, cholera has killed 2,000 people.

Lorna Chivandire, who worked as a lab scientist in Harare before leaving for Britain in 2002, said: "I would like so much to work in my profession again, or at least contribute to the community where I could do wonders and help people. I just want to work and have a decent life."  

The protest was organised by pressure group Citizens for Sanctuary which is calling for Zimbabweans to be allowed to work in Britain until it is safe for them to return home.

A spokeswoman for the UK Border Agency, which oversees immigration, said the government considered each asylum application on its merits. "Those who are not at risk will not be granted asylum and we expect to return home," she said.