UN urges South Africa to halt deportation of Zimbabweans

UN urges South Africa to halt deportation of Zimbabweans

Zimbabweans crossing the Limpopo River  into South Africa (file photo)
The United Nations refugee agency has called on South Africa to stop deporting Zimbabweans, noting that an increasing number of them are arriving as a result of political violence in their homeland.

According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), while there were a significant number of refugees crossing the border into South Africa seeking asylum in the wake of the violence that beset Zimbabwe following the March elections, that figure has increased since the 27 June presidential run-off.

UNHCR spokesperson Jennifer Pagonis told reporters that the agency is seeing “an increasing number of families arriving as a result of political violence, with several people showing signs of beatings or torture.” Many new arrivals are entering the country through unauthorized border points, making it difficult to know the numbers involved.

“The High Commissioner is reiterating his appeal to South Africa to halt all deportations of Zimbabweans and ensure that those seeking asylum should have access to the national asylum procedures,” Ms. Pagonis said.

“We continue to urge South Africa to exceptionally grant Zimbabweans a temporary legal status allowing them to stay in the country, an option which is foreseen in national legislation,” she added.

Sources indicate that, in the last 40 days alone, some 17,000 Zimbabweans have been deported from South Africa through the Beit Bridge border post, despite earlier calls from UNHCR to suspend all deportations.

“In our view, the large scale deportations, coupled with the difficulties that Zimbabweans face braving the crowds to access the national asylum procedure, create a real risk that refoulement – or forcible return to their country of origin where they could face danger – could occur,” said Ms. Pagonis.

The agency is working together with the authorities to reinforce its presence at the border and is visiting the detention and deportation facility in Musina to identify Zimbabwean asylum seekers and refer them to the appropriate government authorities. “We are also discussing these issues with the government to try and ensure that refugees and asylum seekers get the protection they need,” Ms. Pagonis added.

Zimbabwean asylum-seekers have also been reported arriving in neighbouring countries since March with some 700 arrivals in Botswana and 38 in Zambia. UNHCR staff in Mozambique’s border areas have also identified several hundred asylum-seekers from Zimbabwe who need protection.