Sheffield volunteer facing Zimbabwe deportation praises ‘heartwarming' support at rally

A Sheffield volunteer fighting deportation to Zimbabwe thanked supporters for their ‘heartwarming’ backing, as he addressed protesters today.

Tuesday, 19th February 2019, 11:35 am
Updated Tuesday, 19th February 2019, 11:37 am

More than 75,000 people have signed a petition calling for Victor Mujakachi, who has lived in Sheffield for 16 years and won awards for his voluntary work here, to be freed since he was detained last Monday.

The 57-year-old was released last Friday but still faces the threat of being forcibly removed to his birth country, where he fears his political views mean his life would be at risk.

Victor Mujakachi (pic: Chris Etchells)

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Cries of ‘Victor belongs in Sheffield’ rang out as he took the microphone outside the Home Office’s Vulcan House building beside the River Don, where demonstrators had gathered this morning.

“I didn’t expect to be here today as I was only given four days to stay in the UK when I was detained last Monday,” said the former banker, who has two sons and a grandson in the UK, and a wife back in Zimbabwe.

“I expected to be in Zimbabwe facing the music, facing the brutality, facing the inhuman treatment all of you have seen on social media and in the international media.”

Protesters outside the Home Office's Vulcan House immigration reporting centre in Sheffield (pic: Chris Etchells)

He told how he had been ‘thrust into the limelight' but said ‘this isn’t about me’, adding ‘I would like the attention to shift to the rest of the Zimbabweans facing a similar future’.

He also spoke of his shock at the huge response to the petition, saying: “It’s really heartwarming. I never expected to get so much support from the Sheffield community and internationally.”

Mr Mujakachi is one of an estimated 2,500 Zimbabwe asylum seekers in the UK facing deportation, including at least three others in South Yorkshire.

Demonstrators chanted 'Victor belongs in Sheffield' (pic: Chris Etchells)

Among them is Marian Machekanyanga, who has also been in Sheffield for 16 years and fears for her life should she be forced to return, having exposed government corruption in Zimbabwe.

The former civil servant was ordered to report to Vulcan House this morning, prompting fears she would be detained, but she emerged within minutes to cheers from protesters after being told to return in a fortnight.

“I was so frightened going in this morning, because I know if I’m sent back I will be tortured. I will disappear and no one will know what’s happened to me,” said the 54-year-old, who has a husband and two children in Zimbabwe she has not seen in years.

Marian Machekanyanga, who is also facing the threat of deportation to Zimbabwe (pic: Chris Etchells)

“I feel humbled by the support. I feel like I’ve got mothers, sisters, brothers and uncles here, who have shown Sheffield really is the City of Sanctuary.”

Speakers told protesters the UK government was seeking to deport asylum seekers to Zimbabwe after striking a financial deal with the new regime there.

Jeni Vine, national secretary of the City of Sanctuary charity, called on the UK government to lift the threat of deportation, saying it was ‘not safe’ for them to return to a country where dissenters were being ‘persecuted and killed’.

The Home Office has said: “The UK has a proud history of granting asylum to those who need our protection.

“Where a decision has been made that a person does not require international protection removal is only enforced when we and the courts conclude that it is safe to do so, with a safe route of return.”

More than 75,000 people have signed a petition calling for Victor Mujakachi to be freed, which has since happened, and for the Government not to deport asylum seekers to Zimbabwe (pic: Chris Etchells)
Victor Mujakachi and other Zimbabwe asylum seekers in the UK are still facing the threat of deportation (pic: Chris Etchells)
Speakers at the rally claimed the UK's Zimbabwe deportation policy was the result of a financial deal with the government there (pic: Chris Etchells)