A plan for Zimbabwean refugees

SA IS preparing a better contingency plan to handle the potential increase in the number of Zimbabwean refugees when elections are held next month, writes Wilson Johwa in Business Day, Johannesburg.

Tara Polzer, of the Forced Migration Project at the University of the Witwatersrand, said a plan was being prepared by the government with assistance from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

The blueprint was a product of the provincial and local government department’s national disaster management centre. But the lead agency was expected to be the home affairs department, which could not comment yesterday.

Although similar contingency preparations were in place for Zimbabwe’s 2002 and 2005 polls, those plans involved arrangements for the immediate welfare needs of people crossing the border and some discussion on their registration.

The new plan was expected to be better because there is a clearer allocation of departmental responsibilities.

Polzer hoped the latest plan would clarify how SA would deal with the arrivals beyond the immediate period, and with Zimbabweans already in SA.

The plan should also address the continuing deportations of Zimbabweans from SA.

Since 2000, elections in Zimbabwe have been accompanied by violence and intimidation. Earlier this month, a nongovernmental organisation, the Zimbabwe Human Rights Forum, said violence by state security agents in the past year had tainted next month’s election.

It is believed there are 1-million Zimbabweans living in SA, although accurate estimates are difficult to come by.

A recent report by the Paris-based International Federation for Human Rights said the government’s migration policy, which was geared towards security and population control, not only criminalised migration, but also fuelled xenophobia.

Polzer believed a bigger crackdown on Zimbabweans already in SA could aggravate the situation.

If you cut these supply lines, it is possible that more people would have to come to SA because they will have no basis to survive in Zimbabwe, she said.

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