The 12 men, claiming to have fled “political unrest” in their native country, begged a magistrate to grant them refugee status.
Sintha Makoro, 24, Landabo Gezacho, 23, Marcos Fikiru, 24, Aeshm Negesh, 27, Darrilo Teshale, 25, Getahun Demeke, 29, Zerll Angela, 24, Gobana Esheku 25, Bosor Deigif, 27, Sedebo Simon, 26, and Dunago Desta, 22, all signed an admission of guilt letter which was read in court.
“This letter serves as an admission of guilt and request for refugee status. There is a social and political unrest in the region where we come from,” they said.
“We pray for help because our lives are under threat. We fled to this country because of this and we walked for nine months on the road looking for a stable environment.
“We therefore seek state assistance in solving our problem.”
Magistrate Abednico Ndebele remanded the men in custody to February 17 because no translator has been found for the trial.
The Ethiopians illegally entered Zimbabwe on December 4 without any form of identification, and prosecutors say they were transported from Gweru to Bulawayo’s Emganwini suburb by a South Africa-registered Toyota Quantum.
Police raided their hide-out and arrested the 12 following a tip-off.
The group told investigators they come from Softah Village, Gesade Town, in Ethiopia and indications are that they were in transit to neighbouring South Africa.
Only one of the 12 understands English.