Zimbabweans protest outside Downing Street

By politics.co.uk staff

A demonstration by Zimbabweans looking for the right to work in the UK has taken place outside Downing Street.

Organisers said the event was timed to mark six months since prime minister Gordon Brown said he would look into the situation of 11,000 destitute Zimbabweans living in the UK who can not return home and are not allowed to work or access benefits.

The demonstration, organised by Citizens for Sanctuary, demanded permission to work, pay taxes and gain the skills they need to “help rebuild Zimbabwe”.

Several hundred Zimbabweans gathered outside Downing Street in a bid to remind Mr Brown of when he declared he would look at “what we can do to support Zimbabweans in that situation and we will report back to the House [of Commons] in due course”.

A dossier was delivered containing several hundred CVs from Zimbabweans seeking employment in the UK.

Jonathan Cox, from the Citizens for Sanctuary campaign, appealed to Mr Brown to take action and help.

“It has been half a year since the prime minister promised to look at what could be done for Zimbabweans,” he said.

“This demonstration will remind Mr Brown that 11,000 destitute Zimbabweans are waiting for him to keep his word. Our government has been a world leader in criticising Mugabe while leaving many of those who escaped that horrific regime to languish here without hope.

“We must prepare Zimbabweans who came to Britain in search of sanctuary with the skills and experience that they will need to forge a brighter future for their country once democracy and stability are restored.”

Ed Davey, the Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesman, added: “Ministers cannot complain about [president] Mugabe on the one hand, yet stand idly by while Zimbabweans are suffering here in the UK. Give Zimbabweans the right to work.”

In July last year 2,000 Zimbabweans rallied in Parliament Square calling for permission to work and pay taxes, at a demonstration addressed by John Sentamu, the Archbishop of York, and other civil society leaders.

The Foreign Office is urging the government to adopt a more liberal policy towards Zimbabweans in the UK, because it gives them moral leverage when dealing with Mugabe’s regime. That opinion is not shared by the Home Office, who take a harder line.