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Exiles Hope for End to Zimbabwe Crises

Zimbabwe's political and economic crises have precipitated an unprecedented exodus of its citizens. Some estimates put the number of those who have left at as high as a quarter of the country's 12 million population. Former colonial master Britain is a favorite destination.

Prior to the political and economic crises, most Zimbabweans left the country mostly to study and returned after completing their studies. Their stay out of the country is now open-ended in most cases and they leave for a variety of reasons.

Some still go away to study, some professionals leave after being guaranteed work, while the remainder just go in the hope of finding a job, any job.

Zimbabwe's collapsing health care system is one of the sectors hardest hit by the brain drain.

A nurse who has been in Britain since the mid 1990s spoke to VOA on condition his identity is not exposed, because he travels to Zimbabwe to see his family every once in a while. He expressed dismay at the state of the health care situation back home and said conditions of service and poor pay are driving people out of the country.

He expressed a desire to go back, if and when things change.

"It is my desire to go back home if things were different," he said. "But I have got children and an extended family to look after, and if I were to go back home it would be very difficult to look after the family which is over there."

Zimbabwe is suffering food, fuel and foreign currency shortages, inflation of more than 1000%, and unemployment at more than 80 percent. Many Zimbabweans in the country are surviving from money repatriated by family members abroad. The economic meltdown has turned many of those who leave into so-called economic migrants.

There are also the victims of the political violence that has characterized Zimbabwe since 2000. Eugenia Mauluka was a photographer for the country's leading newspaper The Daily News, which the government banned in 2003.

While trying to do her work she was beaten up on a number of occasions by war veterans and the police. She decided enough was enough after a particularly brutal beating and being locked up for three days in 2000.

The police accused her and her news crew of starting the violence at a rally, but she maintains they (the police) were already beating up the people when she got to the rally. The courts dropped the charges against her and her colleagues.

Her uncle in London asked her to visit and take a break. It is then that she decided not to return to Zimbabwe.

"On my arrival I had bruises all over my body," she recalled. "As I got better gradually, when I was staying here with my family taking care of me, that is when I started thinking of what could happen if I go back and start doing the same job. And I just started fearing for my life and my family."

Mauluka applied and was granted asylum in the Britain and she hopes to study film. But no matter what happens she says her heart is in Zimbabwe and she hopes to return when things have normalized.

"It will never be the same for me until I go back home," she added. "I cannot wait for that day to come."

Many opposition activists also end up abroad. Election results in Zimbabwe have always been disputed, especially since the emergence of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change. Less than a year after its formation, the party came within a whisker of winning the general election in 2000.

Some Zimbabweans in Britain remain politically active. They try by whatever means they can to keep the country's problems under the spotlight. Every Saturday some of them maintain a four-hour vigil outside the Zimbabwean embassy in downtown London.

Their spokesperson, a student who declined to be identified, told VOA why they are mounting the vigil.

"The vigil has come up with a resolution that we will be outside of the Zimbabwean embassy until there are free and fair elections in Zimbabwe and our aim is to highlight human-rights abuses in Zimbabwe to the world so that they see what is happening," he said.

The spokesperson said Zimbabwean exiles face challenges such as people with high qualifications having to do menial work, discrimination, and British weather. As a result he said most of them cannot wait for the day things change back home so they can return.

But he said some, especially those who are establishing themselves professionally, may find it difficult to uproot themselves again.