Separated from family … Shadreck Mbiru had lived in London since he was 13
Lost in Chitungwiza … The 26-year-old hasn’t yet adapted to life in town he can’t pronounce
LAST year more than 13,000 people were deported from the UK – but what happens if you can’t even pronounce the name of the place they’re sending you back to?
“More than anything I feel cheated out of my life. They’ve taken everything I had – my family, my friends, my dignity.”
A loud noise interrupts Shadreck Mbiru mid-flow on the phone from his new home; it doesn’t stop. I have to ask and it turns out it’s a very noisy cockerel, not something Shadreck was used to having around at his previous home in London.
The 26-year-old hasn’t yet adapted to life in Chitungwiza, the town around half an hour from Harare that the locals say he pronounces strangely. He left Britain on a plane from Heathrow escorted by UK border staff in November.
Shadreck has been deported back to the country in which he was born – a victory for the Home Office, which had been trying for eight years to secure his removal.
His life is not in danger in Zimbabwe – he concedes this.
The problem for Shadreck is that he arrived in the UK at 13, he went to school and college in London and all that passing of time means he’s ended up as a Londoner in Africa – one that feels he doesn’t belong.
“I’d established a life in London, my friends are British; I like what you like,” he says.
“The system doesn’t look at people, at individuals. Where are the principles and the morals? My family are there, that’s what I don’t understand.”
The Home Office says it looks at each asylum claim on its individual merits.
When questioned about Shadreck’s case, a spokesperson told the BBC: “When someone is found not to need our protection, we expect them to leave the country voluntarily. Where they do not we will seek to enforce their departure.”
Shadreck was never granted leave to remain in the UK.
His sister was given indefinite leave and his mother discretionary – none of the family can tell me why they can stay and Shadreck can’t, though they suspect being female and his sister having a child helped her case to remain in the UK.
Shadreck had spent the last three years in an immigration detention centre unsuccessfully fighting his case.
I have been speaking to Shadreck since he arrived back in his “home” country – his mood a constant mixture of panic and disbelief interspersed with regular laughter at moments of comedy like the cockerel.
He speaks to me in the dark on one occasion because of constant power cuts. Another day he’s collecting water from a well so he can have a bath.
“It’s been the strangest, weirdest four weeks of my life,” he says.
“I really don’t know how I’m going to last. I’m so hot, I can’t sleep and I’m covered head to toe in mosquito bites. I’m losing weight fast.”
An aunt has taken Shadreck in and he says he and her four daughters keep arguing about their way of life.
“It’s totally different from England,” he says.
“There’s no public transport; you have to go in these combi vans with three people on a seat. The food is strange and there are fake products everywhere, even the Colgate toothpaste isn’t real, it tastes really funny.” He laughs.
Shadreck says at the moment he is mostly staying inside. He is starting to look for work but everyone keeps telling him there are few jobs and you have to have connections to get them.
At first he says being free felt good after three years in immigration detention. But now he says his new reality is scary.
Shadreck’s mum is now his only source of income – she has a job in the UK and passed on some money to him at Heathrow.
His mother, sister and brother-in-law came to the airport to say goodbye but weren’t allowed to see him – according to Shadreck the border guards said if he saw his family he may have got emotional and refused to get on the plane.
That day at Heathrow was Shadreck giving up – he signed his deportation papers himself in the end.
The border guards collected some clothes and money from his family to hand over, they said goodbye on the phone and Shadreck flew out of London.
It was a flat end to a miserable couple of years.
I first spoke to Shadreck in early 2014 from Dover detention centre – he took part in a documentary about life in immigration detention.
His story always stuck out because of the strong London accent of the man due to return to Zimbabwe.
I have seen Shadreck’s full immigration history and it’s been a long road to deportation.
He arrived as a visitor in 2002, aged 13, and his mother applied for leave for him to remain as a dependant multiple times, but this was never approved.
At this stage Shadreck says he knew very little about his immigration status, or even what “immigration status” was.
He says it wasn’t until he was in college that it became apparent that it would be an issue.
At 18 an application was made for asylum for Shadreck – this was refused and his appeal rights were exhausted in October 2009, by which time he was 21.
Since then he’s been prosecuted repeatedly for failing to return to Zimbabwe and his final appeal was refused in April.
So does Shadreck see why the government had to send him back?
“Not if you’ve given most of your life to a country,” he says.
“Now I regret ever going to the UK. If I had stayed here I would have a family and a job. Now I’m back here with nothing.”
Shakdreck accepts that from many quarters there will be little sympathy for his story – however sad his situation, he had run out of options to stay.
“Some people will think I’m just another immigrant, they’ll be glad I got sent back here,” he says.
“Even some of my friends might think it’s funny – they might laugh.
“But this is my dignity.”BBC