Zim Assoc works hard to bring down barriers

Since 2001 the Zimbabwe Association has provided Zimbabwean asylum seekers and refugees with help and advice as they deal with the hardship, stress, and isolation of exile.

Now well into its second decade, the association has grown from a single London office into a vibrant charity organisation with outposts in Birmingham, Leicester and Manchester.

Margaret Ling, a trustee of the association, said that the organisation had worked hard to break down the barriers between immigrants and British people.

“The assumptions, expectations and preconceived ideas that other people have about refugees and migrants are a big obstacle,” she said.

“They make it difficult for a person arriving as an asylum seeker to be accepted on their own merits, as an individual with their own unique history and experience, skills and knowledge, strengths and weaknesses like anyone else.”

The association decided that they could help by providing Zimbabweans with the skills, training, and contacts to navigate the complex immigration system and overcome cultural differences.

It is never easy though, and often “refugees become convenient scapegoats for economic problems of which they are as much victims as anyone else,” Ling said.

The current economic recession is making life harder for both Zimbabweans and the association, which has had to get used to working on a shoestring budget. The organisation faces constant uncertainty about the future.

“In the UK, no-one is quite sure how deep the recession and budget cuts are going to bite [and] in Zimbabwe, no-one quite knows when the next general elections are going to be announced; but when they are, there could be a serious deterioration in the security situation,” Ling said.

The organisation’s challenge is to keep moving ahead with their own plans, and have decided “boldness” is the best way forward.

“We feel that we can’t allow a difficult and challenging environment to stifle action, and that we need to move ahead confidently with what we believe is in the best interests of our members,” said Ling.

“We have an ambitious programme of action which is designed to deal with the effects of budget cuts while taking some new initiatives, including supporting our drop-in centres to develop into self-sufficient, independent local groups.”

The association also recently launched a new cultural project, Zimbabwe Unwound, which focuses on issues of Zimbabwean culture and heritage among the diaspora.

“Living in the UK as a refugee and an exile in the longer term raises all sorts of issues about identity and where people belong. They are always Zimbabweans, but become used in living in Britain too. They may feel that they belong to both places, or to neither completely,” Ling said.

Challenging times lie ahead, but Ling thinks the Zimbabwe Association will keep on providing a well of support for Zimbabweans in the UK. The one thing she’d like to change about the asylum process given the chance?

“If the assumption that seems to prevail at the moment, that an asylum seeker is lying unless they can prove otherwise, were to be replaced by the normal presumption that a person is innocent until proved guilty, it would make a great difference.”

Post published in: Africa News

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