Couple who feared return to Zimbabwe allowed to stay in Plymouth for three more years
A COUPLE who last year "feared for their lives" after being faced with forced repatriation to Zimbabwe have said their prayers have been answered.
Garikayi Bimha, a former army chaplain, his wife Bridget and their 20-year-old daughter Miriam were told to leave the UK and return to the troubled African country last March after having three asylum appeals denied.
Mr Bimha, who was forced to join the Rhodesian Army in 1979, said if he was made to return to the country he would be "tortured and killed" for deserting his post as Army Chaplain in one of President Mugabe's Presidential Guards.
The family were told by the UK Border Agency to leave their home in St Judes on March 10, where they had lived for over three years.
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They spent the next five months staying at various friends' houses while they figured out what to do.
But at the end of June the family said their "prayers were answered" when the Home Office granted them three years' limited leave to remain.
And now they have organised a local thanksgiving service to say thank you to the organisations, people and charities throughout the city who helped them.
Gari, an assistant chef at a local nursery, said: "Between March and June we consulted a lawyer who was in the process of making an appeal to the Home Office on our behalf.
"But before he even submitted it he received a letter from the Home Office with the good news.
"I was doing voluntary work at the Methodist Central Hall when I got the call.
"When the lawyer told me what had happened I just went silent. Our prayers had been answered."
Gari said he called Bridget immediately who started screaming with joy.
She said: "After I stopped screaming I sat down and burst into tears.
"My friend, who I was with at the time, just hugged me and we sobbed together.
"It was one of the best days of our lives. Someone had heard our plight and it was justice."
The couple collected their permits in July and visited a number of local organisations and charities for advice on how to get back on their feet.
By October they had found a new home in a flat in the city centre and had both secured paid work.
Their daughter Miriam also has a job as an apprentice hairdresser.
Gari said: "It's been a very emotional time for us all and a bit of a rollercoaster ride.
"But the best thing is that now we are working we can contribute."
Bridget said: "The pastor at our local church always said we should hold a big African party to celebrate, but we don't want it to be about us.
"This is about all the people and organisations that helped us, the people who walked with us on our journey. So the theme is giving something back.
"We are asking those who come to the thanksgiving event to bring non-perishable food parcels which will go to the Plymouth Foodbank and also the Plymouth Refugee Council."
Representatives from the two charities, as well as from Students And Refugees Together (START), Open Doors, and the Red Cross will be at the event, alongside the Lord Mayor of Plymouth.
"We want this to be about the local community," Bridget added. "There are still people who are really struggling.
"We never came to England to rely on benefits; we came to make a difference.
"We are settled now. We've had a big weight lifted from our shoulders. We are very happy, but more than anything we are grateful.
"We'd like to say a big thank you to everyone in Plymouth who has helped us."
The thanksgiving event, open to everyone, takes place from 2pm on Saturday, February 23, at the Plymouth Christian Centre in Cattedown.