UWE students have taken a stand against the deportation of a local Bristol woman to Zimbabwe through protesting and writing letters to MP’s.
Khethiwe Mashavave, a Bristol resident since 2002, claimed asylum due to the dangers she faced resulting from her political activity in Zimbabwe. As a strong supporter of democracy in Zimbabwe, Khethiwe has remained active since making Bristol her home, volunteering for Bristol Refugee Rights, participating in a local group calling for democracy in Zimbabwe, and helping out in her local church. Khethiwe was a prominent figure during Bristol’s City of Sanctuary campaign last year, speaking for asylum seekers and refugees during the launch at the Council House.
After a series of issues caused by poor legal representation, Khethiwe was detained without notice at Trinity road Police Station on the 21st September, transferred to Yarl’s Wood detention centre and due to be deported on Thursday 6th October from Heathrow airport. However, due to a combination of hard work from her current solicitors, who are being funded by donations from friends and organisations, media attention, petitions and public demonstrations, her deportation was delayed, allowing the solicitors to mount a legal case for her to stay.
There were a number of UWE students amongst the protesters, many of whom also volunteer for various organisations supporting the rights of Migrants and Refugees in Bristol. Dr Christien Van Den Anker, Director of the UWE Human Rights unit and the Migrant Rights Centre Bristol said ‘I participated because I believe the threat of deportation is ruining people’s lives and I agree with Father Richard McKay [of St Nicholas of Tolentino church, a speaker during the protest] who called it a form of terrorism as it creates ongoing terror in the lives of asylum seekers and their families. I strongly believe deporting people to Zimbabwe is putting people’s lives at risk as human rights violations are well documented there at the moment. ‘
It is only in the last year that the Home Office has begun deporting asylum seekers back to Zimbabwe believing conditions to have improved since the sharing of power between President Robert Mugabe and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai. However, a report in 2010 by the Bar Council suggests that rather than improving, the conditions in Zimbabwe may be getting worse.
Additionally, access to services in Bristol allowing Asylum Seekers to contend deportation has been drastically reduced due to funding cuts for legal aid. In July this year, the Immigration Advisory Service, one of the largest providers of legal aid for immigration issues in Bristol went into administration.
Whilst successful in delaying Khethiwe’s deportation, the struggle to keep Khethiwe in Bristol carries on, and more protests have been scheduled to take place at College Green. For more information on how to help, or to sign the petition or donate towards legal costs please visit the ‘Khethiwe must Stay’ blog at http://khethiwemuststay.posterous.com/.
Interview with Beth Legesse, Matt Stone and Corrine Pinfold on the ‘Khethiwe must stay’ protests.
Beth, Matt and Corrine are students on the MA Human Rights, and also volunteer with the Migrant Rights Centre Bristol.
How many protests were there in total and how many did you each go to?
Corrine: There was the protest at police station; there was the meeting the following day. The day after that there was the protest at College Green and the day after that. There might have been more.
Matt: The Thursday she got taken [to Heathrow] there was another one.
Corrine: So there were at least five protests/meetings going on, and petition signing all through that time. I went to two protests and one of the meetings.
How many people attended each protest?
Matt: The first day, at the police station, there were around 30 people were there at any one time. There were more people at the protest in college green; there must have been 50 people. People came and went; they didn’t stay all the time.
What was the demographics of the people who went- was it mainly people who knew Khethiwe, or people who cared about the issue of anti deportation, and were there many students there?
Beth: The protests were headed by a few organisations; BRR (Bristol Refugee Rights) and City of Sanctuary, the speaker on College Green, Forward Maisokwadzo knew her very well. There were a lot of people from [organisation beginning with N] a committee in Bristol which aims to establish democracy in Zimbabwe which Khethiwe was involved with which was obviously get her in trouble back in Zimbabwe, so they were quite keen on getting her to stay.
Beth: Went we went to Manchester on Sunday [for a anti-Tory protest] there was a man who asked Corrine, ‘Is Khethiwe still here?’ and we were like ‘Yes!’
Corrine: There were a couple more students around on College Green, but it was mostly people from the organisations.
Matt: I think it was quite representative of the network of Migrant Rights organisations around here.
What was the atmosphere like?
Corrine: It kind of varied each of the days, I think the first day was quite grim, because it was outside a prison, but at the same time it was quite hopeful, we were going around the building trying to get to a spot where we thought Khethiwe could hear. The second day was the meeting, which was ok, until the point where Father Richard McKay left to phone the police station and when he came back we found out that Khethiwe had gone.
Matt: He’d got news that she’d been taken to Yarl’s Wood while we were actually there, meeting at the Pierian Centre.
Corrine: Before then we’d been talking about having another protest that day and going to the police station, and when we heard that it was a bit grim that there was nothing we could do.
Beth: But the next day at the protest, that wasn’t grim, there was a lot of loudness, lots of cheering.
Matt: Yep, lots of good speaking, Kerry McCarthy the MP spoke really well, it was brilliant she turned up, and was there for a long time. She talked about doing everything she could do, and encouraged us to write to MP’s to create as much pressure as possible.
On the Thursday before Khethiwe was due to be sent back to Zimbabwe, there was a stay of deportation, when did you find out about that and how did you feel?
Corrine: I went and checked the blog that night to see what had happened that day, and to see whether she’d gone, and I got on twitter and other social networks and was like ‘Khethiwe’s staying!’ because I was bugging people to sign the petition and I got some really great responses there. So that was a really positive moment that we’d really gotten somewhere, and there was a chance for everything to be put right finally.
Matt: I kept an eye on the internet all day.
Beth: I found out on the Thursday on Facebook. It was really good to finally see that the lobbying action worked, we always do it and sometimes we suspect it doesn’t actually achieve anything, so that was really positive.
Social media was used a lot in the ‘Khethiwe must stay’ protests; such as Twitter, Facebook, the blog- did you find it facilitated the spread of information in a positive way?
Matt: Well I was tweeting before they even got their twitter up, so it could have been a bit quicker, but yeah it was good. It did its job.
Beth: I think it was really positive, because there’s no doubt that people who didn’t turn up to the protests were able to contribute to the process online, and without that you’d never know what could have happened. It was just recognised a bit more nationally, because at the end of the day it was a concern in Bristol, because we know her and have links with her, but other people weren’t even aware of it, but with Facebook and Twitter, and people lobbying MPs I think that’s really helped the case. The fact that she’s got such an important role now, and had such an important role before the deportation case it’s just been more amplified with social networks.
Obviously the case is unresolved, will you be out there again protesting if Khethiwe is to be deported in the future?
Matt: Absolutely, I think we need to be protesting now, for the appeal to happen, but that means going to different people and going to the home office and writing letters to MP’s- it won’t be standing outside offices, it will be that kind of thing, but yeah, if they decide to send her away we need to make a big point of it. The jobs only half done I think.