The Harare government’s contingency plans are based on receiving an estimated 12,000 to 24,000 Zimbabweans each month from neighbouring South Africa, said United Nations’ refugee agency, UNHCR. 1.5 million Zimbabweans are living in the country, most of them illegally.
The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) says thousands of migrants are expected to pass through a reception and support centre it’s been running since 2006 for Zimbabwean migrants at Beitbridge on the Zimbabwe-South Africa border.
IOM officials say services on offer include medical care, counselling for rape victims, temporary shelter and family tracing for unaccompanied children, and free transport home to Zimbabwe. IOM also has a project to help people to set up their own small businesses, such as hairdressing or carpentry.
Poverty is likely to be the greatest challenge for returnees with unemployment a staggering 80 percent in Zimbabwe. Many will not even have money to travel from the border back to their communities or buy basic household items, aid workers say.
UNHCR will help returnees get vital documentation. National identity cards are necessary “for pretty much everything” in Zimbabwe, including sitting for school exams and accessing health care services, said a UNHCR official.
In April 2009, South Africa halted the repatriation of Zimbabweans in recognition of the political violence and economic collapse in their home country.
South Africa now wants to resume deportations following the introduction of a power-sharing government between President Robert Mugabe and rival Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai after disputed elections in 2008.
UNHCR is calling on South Africa to reform its asylum system. It has been overwhelmed by applications by Zimbabwean economic migrants who see it as the easiest way of regularising their immigration status.
Under South Africa’s refugee laws, those whose asylum claims are recognised as genuine have the right to work and access social services in the same way as South African citizens.
As a result of its generous laws, South Africa receives the largest number of asylum applications in the world. 67 percent of them are made by Zimbabweans. 222,000 asylum in 2009 and 207,000 in 2008.
South Africa’s decision to renew expulsions is unlikely to discourage Zimbabweans from wanting to escape political and economic troubles at home.
UNHCR says 300 Zimbabweans are claiming asylum at the border town of Musina each day. An increasing number of these are children travelling alone. Many migrants are subjected to rape, theft or violence during the journey.