SA to consider camps for Zim refugees

The plight of Zimbabwean refugees in South Africa around the border town of Musina has become "quite desperate", government spokesperson Themba Maseko said on Wednesday.

The Department of Home Affairs was now investigating the establishment
of "transit camps" in the area to deal with the problem, he told a
media briefing in Pretoria following Cabinet’s fortnightly meeting
earlier in the day.

"The situation in Musina is getting quite desperate. The conditions
under which the Zimbabwean nationals are living in that part of the
country is something that’s of grave concern to us."

Responding to a question, he acknowledged this was a change of policy
on the part of government, which up to now had been opposed to the
establishment of camps for refugees.

Cabinet was now saying that because of the deteriorating situation it might be necessary to review that policy.

"Home affairs has been given the mandate to actually look at this
matter once again … and make a proposal on whether policy needs to be
changed to set up … transition camps."

Once the proposal was received, Cabinet would respond.

"In the meantime, government will continue to work with the NGOs to address the plight of Zimbabwean nationals," Maseko said.

A political crisis in Zimbabwe, compounded by severe poverty and
economic collapse, has sent millions of Zimbabweans flooding into South
Africa and other neighbouring countries in search of a better life.

The South African government recently decided to shut down a makeshift
camp on the border that had developed as thousands of asylum seekers
descended on the country at the height of Zimbabwe’s political crisis
and a cholera epidemic.

More than 4 000 have died in the epidemic brought about by a complete
collapse of the country’s healthcare system and sanitation system.

A well-known destination for refugees, a Methodist church in central
Johannesburg, which has provided a safe haven for Zimbabweans, has also
reached capacity, overwhelmed daily by about 2 000 refugees living on
the streets in the inner city.

"The reason why a lot of Zimbabweans are ending up in the church is
because there is no alternative. The camps … will relieve the
pressure that’s been experienced in other parts of the country," said

Water Minister Lindiwe Hendricks said last week the situation in Musina
was "untenable" as crowds at the municipal showgrounds often swelled to
8 000 in the evenings as farmworkers came to try to receive food
parcels meant for asylum seekers.

Mail & Guardian Online/SAPA/AFP

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