afrol News, 7 January - South Africa is preparing to forcibly deport the up to 1.3 million Zimbabweans that did not apply to regularise their stay before the 31 December deadline. Preparations are already made for the mass exodus.
According to the South African Ministry of Home Affairs, more than 275,000 Zimbabwean nationals living illegally in the country had applied to regularise their stay in South Africa within the deadline.
The Ministry's Director-General, Mkuseli Apleni, said that all the applications would be treated by March this year. Mr Apleni indicated the number of applications was greater than expected. "No one would be deported until the all the applications had been processed," the Ministry informed yesterday.
However, there are an estimated 1.5 million Zimbabweans living in South Africa, many of whom migrated as a result of the social and economic unrest in Zimbabwe in recent years. Most did not qualify for a South African residence application because they are unemployed or only have part-time jobs.
Up to 1.3 million of these Zimbabweans are therefore now risking deportation. The Ministry of Home Affairs has confirmed that Zimbabweans hereafter deemed as illegal immigrants will be arrested and deported to Zimbabwe.
Zimbabweans in South Africa and outside claim that many were not given a fair chance to apply as the Zimbabwe government was not cooperative in providing Zimbabwean passports. Passports were needed to present an application for South African residence.
South African human rights activists further criticise the process, fearing that the planned arrests and mass deportations will further push exiled Zimbabweans underground, exposing the further to poverty and crime. Many, employed in the informal sector and therefore not qualified to apply, would therefore lose their livelihood.
In South Africa, where the unemployment rate is now over 25 percent, the forced eviction of illegal immigrants is however widely welcomed by the population.
Meanwhile, plans are made on both sides of the border for the announced forced exodus. The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) today announced it has "begun to implement a contingency plan to provide humanitarian assistance to Zimbabwean migrants" who will probably forcibly returned from South Africa in a few months.
"IOM, together with humanitarian partners and the Zimbabwean and South African governments will provide humanitarian and protection assistance to vulnerable returnees, including unaccompanied minors," the organisation said today.
Under the plan, two major reception and support centres at Zimbabwe's borders with South Africa and Botswana are already being equipped with large quantities of non-food items including tents and blankets.
The two locations - Beitbridge and Plumtree - are principal points for cross border traffic for Zimbabwean migrants and opened for forcibly returned migrants already in 2006 and 2008. The two centres have already assisted some 437,000 Zimbabweans returnees, but never received such a great wave that may be expected later this year.
From the two reception and support centres, the expected 1.3 million Zimbabwean returnees are to be reintegrated into society. For this, plans are vaguer, and normal Zimbabwe government and international community development schemes somehow must find shelter and employment opportunities for the returnees.
But Zimbabwe has yet to recover from its political and economic meltdown. Zimbabweans in South Africa know there is currently little hope for their future in Zimbabwe. Many will seek to go underground in South Africa rather than being sent home.
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