A British newspaper has reported that the British government was offering a resettlement package to the Britons to leave Zimbabwe following increasing numbers of residents approaching the British Embassy in Harare asking for help to leave.
The evacuating will mostly target “older and vulnerable” nationals from Zimbabwe. Up to 1,500 elderly and infirm Britons are expected to take advantage of the “Zimbabwe Resettlement Programme”.
“Letters outlining the offer of help were sent to elderly, vulnerable and infirm citizens in the last two weeks and have already drawn responses from people keen to take it up,” the paper reported on its online edition.
The report said the British government was “acutely sensitive” as to how the resettlement offer will be viewed by Zimbabwe’s new unity government. It is emphasising that it is a humanitarian move driven by a collapse in the country’s infrastructure, which is hitting the elderly and sick the hardest.
John Healey, the Local Government Minister, said: “The situation in Zimbabwe continues to make it hard to access food and medical care. That’s why we are offering help to older, vulnerable British people who are unable to support themselves in Zimbabwe and want to resettle in the UK.”
British officials insist they have been planning the operation “for months” and it was only a coincidence that the timing of the offer came as the new unified government took power. It will be some months yet before the first group arrives, officials said.
The British government says the new Zimbabwean administration, whose Cabinet met for the first time on Tuesday after Morgan Tsvangirai, the leader of the Movement for Democratic Change was sworn in as Prime Minister, could not be expected to put right the collapse of Zimbabwe’s infrastructure overnight.
The newspaper said people returning from Zimbabwe will be offered housing, state benefits and support. Ministers are preparing to waive the rules on residency tests to allow people to claim housing and council tax benefit on arrival.
The programme is available to British citizens over 70 who are living in residential or nursing homes in Zimbabwe and to younger people in need of social care who live in their own homes. They will be interviewed by British officials in Zimbabwe and will be allowed to bring spouses and partners with them.
There are an estimated 12,500 British citizens in Zimbabwe, of whom 3,000 are over 70. The British government believes that only between 500 and 1,500 will be eligible for the scheme, which will run over the next 18 months.
Under the terms of the scheme, the British taxpayer will pay for flights to Britain and a hotel stay until permanent housing can be arranged. Some of the returning Britons will be found places in nursing or care homes with the State meeting the bill if, as is likely, they cannot afford to pay.