Scatterlings from Africa

3rd June 2005 at 01:00
Work in the UK keeps most Zimbabweans from returning, says James Heartfield

Early this year, the Home Office began deporting Zimbabweans after a lull, though they admitted that "there has not been any improvement in conditions in Zimbabwe since enforced removal of failed asylum seekers was suspended".

It is believed that the Home Office was targeting single people without children and so far around 100 have been deported. In Manchester, one young couple were told to prepare their two infant children for deportation when they where reported to the authorities. They have since gone underground.

Around 600,000 Zimbabweans live in Britain. Mostly Shona, with a handful of Ndebele and whites, they live in London's outerlying suburbs, such as Romford and Ilford, with communities in other major British cities - Glasgow, Birmingham and Manchester. They work in hospitals, schools, at the BMW plant in Oxford, in IT and management - if allowed.

City University sociologist Alice Bloch, who has studied the Zimbabwean diaspora, said that there were a complicated mix of reasons why people left. Political persecution was the major cause, but 72 per cent of Zimbabweans want to return; though they also want to be able to earn. Of her sample, 45 per cent of Zimbabweans in Britain had children.

Zimbabwean journalist Matthew Takaona warned his country's Sunday Mail readers recently of the difficulties facing children growing up in Britain, where "kids experienced little discipline in British schools because teachers were not allowed to beat them". But Zimbabwean children have thrived in the UK.

English is Zimbabwe's official language. The country has the best literacy rates in Africa and until the recent troubles its schools were considered its greatest asset. Schooling is compulsory from six to 13. Fewer children attend secondary schools, and teaching is patchier in the rural districts.

But schools have been hit hard by the brain-drain, leaving them understaffed with 40-plus classes and few books. Students have to bring their own paper and food.

Recently, the United Nations launched a $124million (pound;67 million) fund to help schools.

TIPS FOR TEACHERS

* Zimbabwean children come from a more traditional society so might expect stricter discipline, but they quickly acclimatise to British classroom standards. Their parents have high expectations of education.

* Though older Zimbabweans might speak Shona, English is the official language and the one used in Zimbabwean schools so you are unlikely to find any language problems.

* Most asylum seekers are recent arrivals. The conflict was not an outright war, but some people have been tortured and had relatives killed. For the most part, it is disruption and mixed messages from the Home Office that are causing anxieties for families here.

USEFUL RESOURCES

* Zimbabwe High Commission, Zimbabwe House, 429 Strand, London WC2R 0SA.

Tel: 020 7836 7755; fax: 020 7379 1167

* The Zimbabwean, weekly newspaper for Zimbabweans in Britain. Tel: 02380 879 675; www.thezimbabwean.co.uk

* British Zimbabwe Association advise on asylum. 1A Waterlow Road, London N19 5NJ. Tel: 020 7281 3029; www.zimbabweassociation.org

* The Zimbabwe Community Association organise cultural events. Priory House, Kingsgate Place, London NW6 4TA. Contact: Lucia Dube, tel: 020 7328 9906

* British Zimbabwe Society organise events: www.britain-zimbabwe.org.uk2005events.htm

READ

* The Development Potential of Zimbabweans in the Diaspora, by Alice Bloch, International Organisation for Migration, Research Series No 17

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