High Court judge, Jester Charehwa, on Monday ordered the release from prison, refugees from Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Rwanda who were arrested in August 2021 for allegedly inciting a protest at a transit camp in Chipinge.
They were accused of leading disgruntled refugees to protest against the forced deportation of inmates who had applied to stay in Zimbabwe.
Immigration officials and police details rounded up the refugees—Christine Kwizagira, Mirelle Ruvubika, Agnes Uwizeya and Janine Niyongree—at Tongogara Refugee Camp on 7 August 2021 and claimed that they were taking them to a different transit camp.
But the four were taken straight to Chikurubi Maximum Prison after being informed that they would be charged with leading unsanctioned protests at Tongogara.
It was not clear why the officials did not take the foreigners to a police station as required by the law.
According to sources who spoke to Grazers News, the protests happened on 6 August 2021after authorities attempted to deport some refugees who had applied to continue staying in the camp but were denied the privilege.
The refugees were arrested the following day.
The detention of the refugees at Chikurubi prompted the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) to approach the courts.
The ZLHR lawyers, Paidamoyo Saurombe and Tinashe Chinopfukutwa, argued in court that the detention violated the foreigners’ right to liberty.
Grazers News established that the detained refugees had stayed at the Tongogara Refugee Camp from as way back as 2003 and had raised families while at the institution.
The presiding judge, Justice Charehwa, ordered the Zimbabwe Prisons and Correctional Services (ZPCS) to immediately release the refugees.
He also ruled that the immigration department’s chief director, Respect Gono, must sign all necessary papers to enable them to be transported to the Waterfalls refugee transit centre in Harare.
Following the judgement, Kazembe Kazembe, the Home Affairs minister and Godwin Matanga, the head of police, will be obligated to ensure that the refugees are not deported unprocedurally.
“The commissioner of refugees is ordered at its costs to facilitate the collection of the refugees’ effects and belongings from Tongogara Refugee Centre in Chipinge to Waterfalls Transit Centre in Harare within seven working days upon the granting of this order,” ruled Justice Charehwa.
Zimbabwe is signatory to several international conventions and treaties that guarantee protection and safety of refugees.
It ratified the 1969 the then Organisation of African Unity—now the Africa Union—Convention Governing the Specific Aspects of Refugees in Africa.”
In an interview with Grazers News, one of the refugees’ lawyers, Saurombe, said: “We are now facilitating the removal of our clients from prison to Waterfalls Transit Centre. We will come back to court to make an application that will seek to have the actions of the Chief Immigration Officer declared unlawful,” he said.
Zimbabwe holds refugees from numerous countries, among them the DRC, Angola, Côte D’Ivoire, Egypt, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Lebanon, Malawi, Mali, the Republic of Congo, Sierra Leone, Somalia, South Africa, Syria, Tanzania,and Uganda.