Fleeing Zimbabwe: “With the refugee status I had my life back”

Chenzira comes from Zimbabwe. In her country she was a teacher. When the charity institute she worked for was declared unwelcome by the regime, Chenzira became a political enemy in her own country and was forced to flee to save her life.

“I set off without even knowing where I was going nor who could help me. I decided to go all the same because the alternative was to wait and be killed. Most of the time I walked, keeping away from the main roads and trying not to use buses if I could help it. When I arrived at a small village next to the frontier I decided to go towards the nearest town, where I had heard it would be possible to join a group that like me was trying to leave Africa. I had to leave the continent, the Zimbabwean government has good relations with many African states and I couldn’t trust any government, any authority.”

As soon as she arrived in the town Chenzira was approached by so-called ‘agents’ who deal with people who like her intend to leave the country illegally. The journey to Europe costs a lot of money and you have to pay ‘blind’ because there is no way of choosing, or knowing even, what the final destination is going to be.

“During the journey you become a victim a second time, the agents can help you but on their conditions. We weren’t asked where we wanted to go, if we wanted to go to France, the UK or Holland, everything was decided by the traffickers depending on what suited them at the time.

I arrived in England, they dropped me off near a bus stop. I didn’t dare to speak to anyone so for two days I stayed there, sleeping under a bridge, without any money, without food. The second day I got to know some people who were going to Tesco, two women shared their food with me, they helped me and took me to a family that took me in for a time.”

Chenzira spent a few weeks in her new provisional home. During that time she was looked after, and given food and clothes, but above all she found the time to regain her confidence and trust in others, because it is not easy to still believe that someone can help you to start a new life, to plan the future all over again.

“At the time I had no idea what political asylum was and I found it difficult to tell the Immigration officers everything about what had happened to me. They kept asking me if I had planned to come to the UK and I tried to explain that I had planned nothing, I had escaped from Africa to save my life. Some of them think that you are trying to take advantage of the asylum system, but I was only asking for help and it offends you that they think you are lying. When I received my refugee status I felt as though they had given me my life back. I’m free, if I need help I know who I can turn to, but my life is in my own hands. I know what I want and I know that I can get it. So now I’m looking forward, I’ve wasted too much time, but I’m not trying to have back what I’ve lost, I want to go forward, my journey isn’t over yet.”

Chenzira obtained political asylum in 2009, and is currently living in the UK where she is studying for the qualification of social assistant. Chenzira decided to tell her story through the Scottish Refugee Council so that it can be of help and inspiration for other refugees who like her have had to leave everything behind and escape.