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Human Rights Group Says Zimbabwe Secretly Scattering Homeless

An international human rights group says the government of Zimbabwe has moved thousands of people from temporary camps to more remote locations, after the United Nations criticized Harare for organizing mass evictions and home demolitions. Amnesty International has a video, secretly filmed in a makeshift camp earlier this month.

The video shows several dozen people in a dusty makeshift camp of tents made of plastic sheets. Amnesty says there are some 2,000 people in the Hopley Farm camp, outside the capital, Harare. Many were evicted in what the government called a campaign to clear illegal housing and fight crime, known as Operation Restore Order, or Operation Murambatsvina. The newly homeless were sent to so-called transit camps.

Now, Amnesty says, some have been moved again to more remote locations.

In the video, a woman, whose face is blurred to conceal her identity, says obtaining even basic items like food and water in the camp has become difficult.

"Some people brought food assistance," she says. "Not many people got the food, because the police arrived and stopped food distribution."

Amnesty says some of these people have been forcibly moved several times in recent months, but the human rights group fears there could be similar camps human rights campaigners do not know about.

"There is some evidence, there may be other small communities of people dropped in different areas where they may desperately need humanitarian assistance, but unless someone finds them, they won't get it," explained Audrey Gaughran, a researcher with Amnesty in London, who visited Zimbabwe in recent months.

She says the government began moving the homeless to rural areas, without notifying aid agencies, after a United Nations report criticized Harare for evicting an estimated 700,000 people from their homes with little or no warning. Zimbabwe has defended the demolition program as necessary to clean up slums and fight crime. And, the government of President Robert Mugabe has dismissed the U.N. report as exaggerated.

Ms. Gaughran says, now, the government has moved people to camps like Hopley Farm, or transported them to isolated rural areas.

However, she says, the evictions are just one of Zimbabwe's serious human right issues.

"As huge and appalling as this particular situation is, there are so many other dimensions to the human rights crisis in Zimbabwe and this is a longer term, deeper human rights crisis," she said.

Amnesty is calling on the government to say where all of those evicted from their homes are located and to allow aid workers to reach them. U.S. and South African officials have expressed frustration with bureaucratic hurdles in Zimbabwe that are preventing food aid from reaching those who need it.