IOM deplores treatment of refugees

The International Organisation on Migration has deplored the Zimbabwe government's tendency to detain asylum seekers in prison instead of speedily handing them to UN agencies for assistance.

In a report, the IOM said it had assisted 26 Somali and 74 Ethiopian asylum seekers relocate to Tongogara Refugee Camp after they languished for months at Harare remand prison with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees unaware of their whereabouts.

"Partners are advocating for change so migrants can be accomodated elsewhere rather than detained at Harare remand prison while awaiting transfer to Tongogara Refugee Camp," IOM said.

The refugees were detained by the Zimbabwean government in February and vanished, amid fears that they had been deported to their countries of origin in violation of United Nations rules.

UNHCR country representative for Zimbabwe, Marcellin Hepie told The Zimbabwean earlier this year he did not know what had happened to the asylum seekers.

They had made the arduous journey from war-ravaged Somalia and drought-hit Ethiopia but were detained by the Harare authorities for illegal entry.

The UNHCR expressed concern that most refugees granted asylum in Zimbabwe fled the country before long. Torture by the CIO while in prison was routine during interrogation to establish if the new arrivals were not spies.

Hunger and deprivation was also said to be widespread in prison as the authorities could not provide the types of food to which the asylum seekers were accustomed. Many needed treatment and at least one refugee needed hospitalisation after release, according to the report.

Moira Gombingo, a senior refugee official in the Department of Social Welfare confirmed recently that asylum seekers entering Zimbabwe were routinely handed over to the CIO for interrogation. Gombingo claimed that entrants into Zimbabwe threatened national security.

"From a security point of view, we have to find out who the so-called asylum seekers are. We call in the security agencies to deal with these state spies," Gombingo said.

She confirmed that after being grilled by the CIO, the asylum seekers were then handed to the security services of their countries of origin without being allowed access to the UNHCR. This is a violation of UN rules on treatment of asylum seekers.

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