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Distrust affects evacuation of Zim students trapped in Ukraine

Distrust affects evacuation of Zim students trapped in Ukraine

Decades of distrust between Zimbabwe Government and its citizens has affected evacuation of the southern African country’s students in war-torn Ukraine.

Ukraine was home to over 76,000 foreign students, 19,000 were from Africa. It is unclear how many were from Zimbabwe but 2020 government data shows that large numbers were from Morocco, Nigeria and Egypt.

Zimbabwe’s Missions to Moscow and Berlin facilitating evacuation, note that distrust has been a major hurdle in evacuating Zimbabwe students to zones of safety.

“So our embassy in Berlin was doing the coordination, what we call the Berlin-Ukraine Coordination and in that process, we managed to register a number of students who wanted to move out of Ukraine. Unfortunately, the first few days, there was some scepticism,” David Musabayana, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Trade told Senate on Thursday.

“Some people did not believe that our Government could assist or really meant to assist the people, so very few people registered but when the war broke out, a number of students then registered. We have created a whatsapp platform group.”

“About 257 students registered. The capacity was filled and another group was registered and most of the students are now communicating with our embassy in Berlin but over and above that, we have also managed to assist a number of students.”

Zimbabwe has evacuated 118 students since Russia invaded Ukraine last week with Information minister Monica Mutsvangwa telling journalists on during Tuesday’s post-Cabinet briefing that Government is in the process of buying tickets for the students to come back home.

Musabayana said the Russia-Ukraine war “was not planned, anticipated or budgeted for” and efforts of evacuation are “focused on those that have challenges with capacity to raise the funds.”

“If people have capacity to evacuate, because most of those students are private students who have gone for private studies using their private resources, which means in essence they have the capacity to move back home. As Government, until and when resources are available, yes it can be discussed but when that arises I am sure it will also involve the august House to give them the go ahead to fund such activities,” he continued.

“As for the framework for those that have moved but want refund, I am sure we stand guided by Parliament because they are the ones who authorise such expenditures. Government or the Executive alone cannot make such decisions,” he added.

Musabayana said Government has set up stations around Ukraine-Moldova, a Ukraine border, the Hungary-Ukraine border, the Poland-Ukraine border, the Romania-Ukraine border and the Russia-Ukraine border.

A number of Africans trying to flee Ukraine after Russia invaded last Thursday say they have had problems getting buses or trains to Ukraine’s borders because they were black.

“The only challenge that we have is, at one point we had some reports or allegations that Africans were not allowed to board trains to move out of Ukraine because some officials in Ukraine were favouring Caucasians, Indians and other races. We are yet to confirm that,” he said.

Zimbabwe’s Embassy in Berlin has written to the EU requesting for safe passage of Zimbabweans.

“We have also written to the Russian Federation to ensure our citizenry get safe passage. We have gotten a positive response from Russia but EU did not assure us that they will assist because they said it would have been easier if Ukraine was part of EU. So to date, that is what we have done but we have also put together and funded our Mission in Russia to ensure that all the citizenry that pass through Russia would be able to be assisted and evacuated,” Musabayana said.

“Unfortunately, the past few days, things have since changed because Russia was removed from the swift platform of transferring money and because of that, we are now trying to see how best we can move those funds to another Mission that can access the funds and be able to assist our students to zones of safety. The President is indeed concerned about the safety and interest of our people in Ukraine and has ensured that we mobilise enough resources to bring them back to safety,” he continued.

“Having said that, it is important to highlight that there are certain cities where it is no longer very safe for those students to move, like the city that they call Kyiv. It is now impossible to move out of those cities and people are encouraged to stay in bunkers. It is important even for the parents to instruct their children or relatives accordingly so that they move as per the instruction that they have on the ground.”