Chief Government Spokesperson Dora Siliya says Zimbabwe’s MDC Alliance leader Tendai Biti was not deported from the country because he was never allowed entry into Zambia in the first place.

And Siliya has warned that government will not allow people who may be running away from criminal offences they have committed in their countries of origin to seek refuge in Zambia just for the fun of it.

Responding to a public outcry following the deportation of Biti, which was deported contrary to a court order instructing the Zambian government to allow the foreign opposition leader stay in Zambia, Siliya argued that Biti was not deported at all, but was only “returned” to his home country.

She emphasised that Biti’s reasons for seeking asylum in Zambia were not convincing because he was neither in danger nor was there any breakdown in Zimbabwe’s law and order for him to flee.

“What court order? The documents were processed on the 8th of August to have him returned to Zimbabwe, not deported. Mr Tendai Biti was not deported because he had not gained entry into Zambia, so he was not deported. A person who is deported is a person who is legally in the country. Mr Tendai Biti was not in Zambia, he presented himself at the border, and at the border he said he was seeking asylum. He presented himself that, ‘I am Tendai Biti and I want to seek asylum’. Because of that, he was held at the border so that the immigration officials could consult. And when government consulted through Ministry of Home Affairs, with immigration through Foreign Affairs, it was deduced that he did not qualify to seek asylum. For one to seek asylum, it must be that either in their country of origin, there is either serious trouble, maybe violence at a large-scale, such that the lives of citizens are threatened or even indeed that there is total breakdown of law and order,” Siliya explained.

“But because his conditions were not sufficient, his request was denied and the process to have him handed back to the authorities was signed yesterday and he was handed back. The court order is on the 9th of August and he was already handed back! So, we don’t know what backlash you are talking about. We believe that the issues of Zimbabwe are internal and we do not give asylum just for the fun of it. We are also a country who have to protect our own citizens, so we do not give foreigners to come and seek refuge here because this country belongs to Zambians. So, we look at the conditions first, [like] is there breakdown in rule of law in Zimbabwe? If there was, you would have seen an instance of asylum seekers at the border, like you’ve seen refugees coming from the Congo, you saw an influx in Luapula. But have you been told that Zimbabweans are running away into Zambia because there is a breakdown in law or they have seen their lives are threatened?”

Siliya, who also doubles as Information Minister, said government would not just give asylum to anyone who presented themselves to be in danger because it was not government’s responsibility to shield criminals.

“We assessed to say, ‘what is the danger?’ And we were not satisfied because we’ve not seen an influx of Zimbabweans coming here saying they are in danger or that there is breakdown of law and order in their country. But just like everyone else, we’ve deduced that there was post-election violence in Zimbabwe, but that violence is finished. SADC issued a statement that the elections were free and fair and that order has returned. We are also not going to harbour people who might be, mark that word, might be running away because they were participating in violence. It is not our responsibility as a neighbouring country to give them refuge, we don’t know whether Tendai Biti was coming here because he feels his life is in danger or because he’s running away from appearing in court as a suspect in post-election violence. We don’t know; all we know is that he did not satisfy the conditions for asylum,” said Siliya.

“But we also don’t give asylum to people who may be running away from due court processes in their own country. We also don’t give asylum if there is no danger in the country of origin. So, why should we just say, ‘you just come to Zambia?’ This country belongs to Zambians, and for us to grant space to someone in this country, we must be satisfied that that person is really in danger. But we will not give asylum to people who are just running away from court processes. We don’t know if those are the facts, but all we are saying is that those are the conditions under which we give asylum.”