A Zimbabwean footballer who plays for Shelbourne FC in Ireland is facing the prospect of being deported after his three year battle to seek asylum there was rejected. Oscar Sibanda says he fears the likelihood of being persecuted if he is to be returned home to Zimbabwe.
The British Guardian newspaper reports that ‘every time Sibanda puts on his Shelbourne football shirt he knows that this could be his last match or training session for the League of Ireland side.’ He currently trains on the beach close to the Mosney asylum centre – a former Butlins camp that is home to 800 asylum seekers, including many young families.
Sibanda says he fled his homeland to join his mother and siblings in Ireland. They too had left because of political victimization directed at members of the then opposition MDC party. Speaking to the Guardian Sibanda said;
“My problems here in Ireland are to do with a translator. I come from Matabeleland and the translator thought I spoke the same language as they do across the border in South Africa. He put me down on the asylum form as South African and the authorities in Dublin decided I didn’t face persecution.”
“I got out of Zimbabwe through South Africa but I left my passport behind. I had no proof I came from Zimbabwe and that my family were under threat from Mugabe’s regime.” Sibanda is currently signed to the semi-professional Shelbourne FC but cannot be paid by the club. Like all asylum seekers he is only entitled to €19.10 (£16) a week.
“I have to pay about €10 for transport to matches and training. The other players are getting part-time wages, but I am not legally entitled to them. All I want to do is use my skills as a footballer to earn a living while I am still in my 20s, pay my taxes and be a good citizen.”
Sibanda has also worked as a volunteer for Sport Against Racism Ireland and runs a team made up of immigrants named after Albert Johanneson, one of the first black players in English football. He has also been on the books of two other League of Ireland teams, Shamrock Rovers and Drogheda United. A number of former players and managers have signed a petition urging the authorities to grant Sibanda asylum. So far their pleas have failed.