Humanitarian crises loom as migration goes out of control

desperate_woman_crossing_borderHARARE Zimbabwe is seizing up to 400 illegally possessed and fake passports every month at the southern border post of Beit Bridge. (Pictured: A desperate Zimbabwean woman crossing the South African border illegally)

But the figure resembles a drop in the ocean compared to the worldwide immigration problem the United Nations is trying to deal with through the International Organisation for Migration, IOM.

The group says the challenge has now gone out of hand and humanitarian crises accompanying it call for ways to manage and protect immigrants ensuring their rights in and obligations towards host states.

Zimbabwe, with millions of its citizens abroad, is among countries benefitting from an IOM scheme helping countries build capacities to cope with the growing phenomenon.

Immigration authorities say scores of children, women and men are killed each year trying to cross the crocodile-infested Limpopo River into South Africa; where survivors often fall prey to thieves, muggers, rapists and habitual killers.

South Africa reportedly has the worlds highest crime rate, ahead of the United States. Yet Zimbabweans form the bulk of an average of 500 people going through Beit Bridge daily.

Zimbabwe is also a passage for Angolans, Congolese, Ethiopians, Malawians, Nigerians, Somalis and Zambians to and from South Africa. Of late, Lebanese traders are invading from Mozambique, where they allegedly run small businesses, covering up diamond deals.

The Western Mozambique region of Manica neighbours Eastern Zimbabwes Chiadzwa diamond fields. The porous border, officials say, is an asset for smugglers and traffickers of human cargo. The victims are offloaded into South Africa, some of them on transit to America and Europe.

Big, powerful and rich syndicates also involving corrupt government officials of different countries are said to be running the show.


The IOM Migration and Development Unit, MDU, Project Manager says the biggest threat is human traffickers, who ruthlessly exploit migrants.

Choice Damiso says, In almost all cases, victims … are not free to decide on the economic activities in which they engage. They are often forced into low-paid, insecure and degrading work, from which they may find it impossible to escape and for which they may receive trivial or no compensation.

She says women form the bulk of trafficked or smuggled persons and confronted with gender-based discrimination, which includes restricted access to regular migration opportunities, female migrants … often accept menial informal jobs.

Some of them end up employed in the sex industry where they are most vulnerable to specific health related risks, including exposure to HIV and AIDS, says the official, adding, Migrants are often unwilling to seek redress from authorities because they fear arrest and deportation.

Horrors of migration

Zimbabweans who manage to dupe the law and make it into Botswana and South Africa mostly end up in cruel situations, with neither legal remedy nor medical attention.

Says Sekai Masunungure of Glenview suburbs of the capital, Harare, The police and immigration (officials) will be after us; so we are always on the lookout.

Many people have been abused… Women and young girls are raped or forced into brothels. They are even filmed while having compulsory sex with strange men.

We definitely face serious problems when we cross without sufficient papers. And we do not report the crimes for fear of arrest.

The 22-year-old mother of two, is among a host of other women in cross-border buying and selling activities. She says children and women are the most vulnerable. Some men they cross with also turn against them.

Eddy Moyo, a lay builder in the mining town of Mvuma, 190 kilometres south of Harare, says he spends weeks leading blind people on the highways of the South African commercial city of Johannesburg. They share with him their daily takings on return to base.

He says he also has witnessed the rough treatment of weak travellers taking the illegal route: Sometimes women are made to do very humiliating things during crossing (the border).

In one incident, a young woman following her husband to South Africa decided to pay less than she had agreed to and hid the rest of the money.

The malaichas (smugglers) ordered her to strip and retrieved the money from a condom stuffed in her private parts… Life is rough out there, says Moyo, a father of three.

Immigration officials in Zimbabwe have confirmed the cruel abuses, some allegedly also by neighbouring authorities.

Women, children and men are packed in one truck and driven over 500 kilometres from Gaborone (the Botswana capital) to Plumtree, (the Western Zimbabwe border post) with no break on the way, says one of the officers.

He says people deported from Botswana often arrive in bad shape; with some having spoiled themselves during the tortuous journey.

The official says people have also been killed in unventilated vehicles while being smuggled or trafficked, or during deportation. But he gives no figures off hand.

Each family in Zimbabwe is said to have at least two or more of its members or close relatives in foreign lands. The migrants and others nationalities face danger while mostly trying to avoid authorities at home or in the host countries.

The first step to contain the problems, says Damiso, is to spread information on migration laws, because the issue is now a feature of contemporary (modern-day) life… People are going to move from one place to another and governments cant stop that…

The former Legal Adviser to Parliament says the IOM last April started consultations with Zimbabwe and came out with a scheme in which IOM shall train immigration officers in the Southern African nation.

The first was a high-profile exercise involving 14 senior immigration officers from head office and the major border posts of the country. It took place from 3 to 4 May at Pandhari Lodge in Harare.

Addressing the workshop, Stephen Museka, the Director for Administration in the Department of Immigration, said migration was no longer a light subject but demanding involving all stakeholders.

He said It is no longer (sensible) to talk of migrants as mere migrants because many issues are involved; and Zimbabwe should join world efforts against old and new challenges.

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