afrol News, 22 September - The great number of illegal or semi-legal Zimbabwean immigrants in South Africa has been given an amnesty opportunity to legalise their stay. Large queues gathered on day 1 of the amnesty to apply for resident papers.
The South African Home Affairs Ministry this week opened its campaign to assist illegal Zimbabwean immigrants to legalise their stay in the neighbour country. A call centre to help Zimbabwean nationals with queries related to regulating their stay in South Africa has been set up and the Ministry opened up its doors to applying immigrants.
Almost 2,000 Zimbabweans turned up at Home Affairs Ministry's offices countrywide on Monday - the first day of the amnesty - to get their documents in order, according to the South African government. The legalisation offer stands until 31 December.
Government recently asked Zimbabwean immigrants to apply for relevant documents and register their status in the country. It issued a six-month special dispensation during in which Zimbabweans already living in South Africa would get the right to work, education and basic health care.
Home Affairs Deputy Minister Malusi Gigaba, in an interview with the state broadcaster 'SABC' this morning, he was satisfied with the response. 1,553 immigrants had wanted more information about the process while 388 applied for work, study or business permits.
The amnesty also included immigrants with false papers, but on Monday, only four Zimbabwean nationals with fraudulent documents had applied for amnesty. "For those who bring back fraudulent South African documents, we will provide them with amnesty and provide them with documents for the purposes of which they are in South Africa," Mr Gigaba promised.
The amnesty however does not include all illegal immigrants to South Africa. It only targets Zimbabweans, and the immigrants must prove they have managed to find work or are in education.
According to the Ministry, all those who have entered the country illegally, but were properly employed, studying or conducting proper business activities in South Africa, would be given the relevant documentation - but only if they had proper travel documents from their home country.
The government of Zimbabwe has promised to cooperate with South Africa in the legalisation process by issuing passports and other documents to paperless Zimbabweans in South Africa. However, the Zimbabwean Consulate in Johannesburg today reported it had not yet started issuing new passports for expatriates.
During the years of political chaos, widespread human rights abuses and economic collapse in Zimbabwe, a large number fled the country, most of which went to South Africa. No exact numbers are known, but estimates of the number of Zimbabweans in South Africa vary from one to five million. Most of these are illegal immigrants.
Zimbabweans have also been the main target of xenophobic attacks in South Africa, especially during the outbreak of violence in 2008. Popular stereotypes had put Zimbabwean immigrants in connection with criminality.
The ongoing amnesty targets only Zimbabweans. But, "once the process has been completed in respect of Zimbabwean nationals, it will be extended to those from other African countries next year," the Home Affairs Ministry has reported.
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