Thousands of people have backed a petition to prevent a Sheffield volunteer being deported to Zimbabwe, where it is feared his life would be at risk.
Victor Mujakachi, who has lived in the city since arriving as a postgraduate student in 2003, was detained yesterday when reporting at the Home Office's Vulcan House centre and is still being held.
The father-of-two, who has a son and grandson living in Sheffield, has been an outspoken critic of successive governments in his native Zimbabwe.
He has been seeking asylum in the UK since a warrant for his arrest was issued by the Zimbabwean authorities in 2008 but three applications have been turned down.
His asylum status prevents the former banker from working in the UK but he has devoted his time in Sheffield to volunteering for various causes, including the charities Football Unites, Racism Divides and Homeless and Rootless at Christmas, earning several awards for his good work.
ASSIST Sheffield, which supports destitute asylum seekers and is another of the charities for which Victor has volunteered, says it is ‘deeply concerned’ about his safety should be be forced to return to Zimbabwe.
It has launched a petition calling on the Home Office to release Mr Mujakachi, which has been signed more than 3,000 times within 24 hours.
Lyndsey McLellan, the charity’s community and events officer, who started the petition, said: “Victor has distinguished himself through his voluntary work with numerous community, voluntary and church groups here in Sheffield, making many friends in the process, and it’s great to see people rallying around him.
“He’s been an outspoken critic of successive Zimbabwean governments and has expressed worries for his safety, should he be returned, especially given the recent brutal crackdown on anti-government protesters in the country.
“We’re deeply concerned for his safety should he be forcibly returned to Zimbabwe.”
Ms McLellan added that Mr Mujakachi was one of several Zimbabwean asylum seekers to have been detained in the UK in recent days.
She said that given the recent crackdown on protesters in Zimbabwe, where Amnesty International has accused the government of using ‘the most brutal tactics imaginable’, the charity was in ‘shock and disbelief’ that the UK would consider deporting anyone there.
Mr Mujakachi has a wife back in Zimbabwe from whom he has been kept apart for many years due to fears for his safety should he return.
As team leader at ASSIST Sheffield’s emergency night shelter over the past eight years, he has helped provide somewhere safe to sleep for hundreds of asylum seekers who would otherwise have spent the night on the streets.
Ms MeLellan said he had proved an ‘indispensable’ volunteer and his detention threatened to disrupt the project, putting at risk emergency accommodation for dozens of asylum seekers who depend on the shelter.
The Home Office would not comment specifically on Mr Mujakachi’s case but said in a statement: “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.”
Gill Furniss, MP for Sheffield Brightside and Hillsborough, has written to the home secretary, Sajid Javid, calling for Victor’s release.
“I was extremely concerned to hear of the detention of my constituent Victor Mujakachi. He is a respected, active and dedicated member of the community and long standing volunteer for many community groups in Sheffield,” she said.
“Having spoken to Victor and his family, my team and I are working hard to do all we can to offer assistance to Victor. I have now written to the home secretary, with an urgent request to release Victor and halt his looming deportation immediately.”
To sign the petition, visit www.change.org/p/home-office-free-victor-mujakachi.