The arrival in Harare of a batch of 14 Zimbabweans deported from Britain is in many ways a welcome sign that the British government has developed a far more realistic attitude to Zimbabwe and reckons that returning citizens are not going to be mistreated.
While their deportation and return hardly raised a whisper in Zimbabwe, there was a flurry of activity in Britain with a major press campaign and public appeals from people claiming that the Zimbabweans should be allowed to stay as refugees since they had “fled tyranny” at home and would be mistreated on arrival.
In fact, all that happened on arrival was that they were treated as normal returning citizens, put into quarantine for Covid-19 as all returnees go through, and then will be helped to reintegrate into their families and communities. In other words, they will be treated the same as any other citizen who comes home and who might need some help.
We get this all the time. Recently we had batches of deportees from South Africa and Botswana, around 200 people, who those countries found had no right to remain in those countries. The social welfare authorities have a well-tried system that gets a deportee home, finds the family if there is one and sees what basic help the person needs to restart their life in Zimbabwe. Those arriving from Britain will get the same assistance, with the only real difference being that they arrived by plane at Harare rather than by bus at Beitbridge or Plumtree.
Whatever a Zimbabwean citizen has done in some foreign country to become unwelcome there does not cancel their citizenship or their right to protection from the Zimbabwean authorities. If you are a citizen, you are treated as such and you have the rights of citizens. Even the fact that this latest group of arrivals from Britain apparently have quite serious criminal convictions there does not affect their status in Zimbabwe, since the crimes were in another land.
The British government disagreed with the spate of critics, and since they know better than the critics what happens to deported Zimbabweans when they arrive home. As Zimbabweans are not eligible for refugee status in Britain, at least not any more, the normal British immigration laws apply. This is a positive development and part of the process of Zimbabwe being treated as a normal country.
The critics have a lot of facts wrong. For a start, whatever Zimbabweans might say on arrival, most of those who emigrate formally or illegally to Britain move for economic reasons, hoping that they will earn more money in a developed economy even if they have to take the sort of job most British citizens are reluctant to do.
That is fair enough from a personal point of view, but those chancing their arm with illegal immigration into any country have to accept that most countries like to approve immigrants before they turn up and in this modern world that tends to mean the immigrant has skills or wealth that the country wants or needs.
Zimbabwe is fairly tight itself on immigration. If you are a major investor you get a residence permit and can bring in a small group of skilled experts to help you set up your new business although generally most of those are only around for a fairly short time. This is part of our investment code.
We also let in, without much question, foreign spouses of Zimbabwean citizens although we reserve the right to check that this is a genuine marriage. But if it is, the foreign spouse is more than welcome under the citizen rights of the Zimbabwean spouse. We fulfil our humanitarian obligations by offering sanctuary to refugees, although again we like to check that they are genuine refugees, and we can and usually do impose some restrictions on what they can do while in Zimbabwe.
The second reason Britain gives for this first batch of deportees, and others who are still arguing the point in British courts, is that they are considered undesirable aliens having been convicted and jailed for serious crimes. We have not been told what crime each returnee committed, and it is not really our business, but again almost all countries like to get rid of foreigners, even cancelling resident permits, who commit crimes on their territory, at least crimes more serious than speeding on the highway.
This is again rational. Every country has some of its own citizens in jail because they have committed serious crimes and no one really wants to crowd their jails with foreigners when it is just as easy to give them a one-way ticket home. Zimbabwe does this, at least when they have served some of their sentence.
Occasionally, of course, deportation laws are used for informal extraditions of criminals wanted back in their own country. But in this case the deporting country wants to know full details of the precise charges the person they send back is facing and checks that they will get a fair shake in the courts back home.
In the case of the deportees from Britain no one has suggested that they face any charges back home, so it is social welfare officers who have to deal with them, not cops. In an odd way these deportees are going to help their country of citizenship.
They might write sob letters to their friends back in Britain about lower wages and the like, and even the difficulty of communicating in their mother tongue, but those letters will be about personal issues and not about “mistreatment” since they will not be mistreated, rather treated like every other citizen. They can even register to vote.