Zimbabwe can′t pay to deport foreign ex-convicts | Globalization | DW | 22.03.2013
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Zimbabwe can't pay to deport foreign ex-convicts

Hundreds of foreign prisoners who have served their sentences in Zimbabwe are not being deported. Unable to pay for their tickets home, the government says it has no choice but to keep former convicts in jail.

A group of inmates at Harare Central Remand Prison chanted "we want to go home" as journalists toured the complex.

A group of men from the Democratic Republic of Congo was among those in custody. They were arrested last year after they fled their war-torn country seeking refuge. Many here were arrested while moving through Zimbabwe on their way to search for employment in South Africa. Their main crime: not having appropriate identification papers with them.

Rabo, a 23-year-old Nigerian, said he wanted to settle in Zimbabwe but was arrested last year and in July was made to pay a hefty fine.

"I have already paid the $200 (155 euros) which they charged me," he told DW. "They have refused to give me access to speak to my parents in Nigeria. They have refused me even to make calls locally. If they do not want me why are they keeping me here?"

Prisoners in Harare Central Demand Prison Photo: Columbus Mavhunga

Some prisoners said they have been waiting for two years to be deported

Stuck in limbo

The Zimbabwean government does not have the resources to pay for the ex-convicts to fly home and as a result they remain in custody on immigration warrants, Zimbabwe prison service head Paradzai Zimhondi told journalists.

Even after having paid their debt to society, many released prisoners have reported having to wait months or even years in custody as the government will not allow them to stay in Zimbabwe but can't afford to send them home. Cousin Zilala, from Amnesty International, called the situation a violation of human rights.

"There is no excuse for a government to say they have no money to deport people back to their country after serving their sentence," he told DW. "The prisoners have no access to their families, their families do not even know where there are."

Stretched resources

Conditions in the Harare Central Remand Prison are cramped and prisoners have reported food shortages.

Clothes dry on a wall at Harare Central Remand Prison.Photo: Columbus Mavhunga

Many prisons in Zimbabwe are over-crowded

Emanuel Simon of Tanzania has been in prison since July 2012 after he was arrested while returning to his country without proper documents.

"Immigration said I should have money because the government does not have money to deport foreigners, and they are saying that the price for the air ticket is $880 from here to Tanzania," he said, adding that ex-prisoners are not supposed to travel overland since there no guarantee they actually leave the country.

"We are doing nothing here," he told DW. "Even the Zimbabwean prisoners are saying 'these guys are finishing our food for nothing.'"

A hidden problem

Zimbabwe's home affairs minister, Theresa Makone, said she was not aware of the situation in the Harare facility.

"It is patently wrong and unfair," Makone told DW. "It is an abuse of people's freedoms."

Makone added that her ministry would look into the situation of foreign prisoners who have served their sentences.

"It is very sad that we charge someone that we cannot then send back to their countries," she said.

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