Blind Zimbabwean loses refugee status after identity muddle

Blessing Marindo has also lost his disability grant and is struggling to make ends meet

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Photo of a blind man with a white stick
Blessing Marindo obtained refugee status in 2003. In 2018, his status was withdrawn. Photo: Bernard Chiguvare

A blind Zimbabwean living in South Africa has lost his disability grant after his refugee status was withdrawn. The Department of Home Affairs says he has been visiting Zimbabwe, but the blind 53-year-old says he has not left South Africa since 2002.

From 2002 to 2007, Blessing Marindo worked for an NGO called Global for Disabled People in Cape Town. When its funding thinned, he was laid off and he obtained a disability grant.

Marindo has had refugee status since 2003. But in August 2018 he received a letter from the Standing Committee for Refugee Affairs saying his status had been withdrawn. The reason given is that according to the department’s records he travelled to Zimbabwe in 2012, 2013 and 2016.

If refugees return to their home country they are no longer considered refugees seeking asylum.

However, Marindo is adamant: “Since 2002 I have never travelled back to Zimbabwe. I am also not a holder of a Zimbabwean passport.”

Marindo has been blind since age five. He does not write, but types. His thumbprint can be seen on all his official documents and correspondence; no signature.

PASSOP, an NGO that assists asylum seekers, obtained a screen grab of the passport used in Marindo’s name. It is signed by hand and the photo is clearly not of Marindo. However, the birth date and other details are Marindo’s.

“The individual on the [passport] photo is not blind, yet Marindo is,” said Tendai Bhiza of PASSOP. She said Home Affairs should not have withdrawn Marindo’s refugee status before verifying whether he had used the passport to travel.

For his part, Marindo dutifully informed the Department of Social Development that his refugee status had been withdrawn. The department then stopped his social grant.

“From the time the grant was stopped I could not rent a room or feed myself. Friends often provide food and toiletries. One of my South African friends, who is also blind, offered me accommodation in Delft. I do not pay rent. Well-wishers provide me with food,” he said.

The Zimbabwean consulate told GroundUp that the passport matter is now under investigation.

“The individual on the [passport] photo is not blind, yet Marindo is,” said Tendai Bhiza of PASSOP.

TOPICS:  Disability Rights Home Affairs Immigration Zimbabwe

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