SA exodus drops

The number of Zimbabweans seeking asylum in neighbouring South Africa decreased by close to half last year’s figures, the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees revealed this week.

A UNHCR report released on Monday showed a record 800 000 people having been forced to flee across borders last year. The report showed that 2011 was a record year for forced displacement, with more people becoming refugees than at any time since 2000.

Tina Ghelli, the UNHCR’s Senior Regional External Relations Officer responsible for Southern Africa, told The Zimbabwean early this week that the numbers of new Zimbabwean applicants in the neighbouring country decreased by more than 45 000.

The statistics show that a total 51 031 Zimbabweans applied for asylum in the neighbouring country in 2011, compared to 96 950 the previous year, 149 453 in 2009 and 111 968 in 2008.

“The decrease does not necessarily indicate a decline in numbers of Zimbabweans coming to South Africa, but those who applied for asylum,” said Ghelli.“This can also be linked to SA’s visa waiver, the moratorium on deportation of Zimbabweans, the special dispensation permit and the Zimbabwe Documentation Project, which could have seen fewer economic refugees taking up asylum permits in favour of the work, study and business permits.”

Meanwhile, the UNHCR’s 2011 Global Trends report detailed for the first time the extent of forced displacement from a string of major humanitarian crises that began in late 2010 in Côte d’Ivoire, and was quickly followed by others in Libya, Somalia, Sudan and elsewhere.

In all, 4.3 million people were newly displaced, with a full 800 000 of these fleeing their countries and becoming refugees.

“2011 saw suffering on an epic scale. For so many lives to have been thrown into turmoil over so short a space of time means enormous personal cost for all who were affected,” said António Guterres, the UN’s High Commissioner for Refugees and head of UNHCR, the UN refugee agency.

“We can be grateful only that the international system for protecting such people held firm for the most part and that borders stayed open. These are testing times.”

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