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South Africa Delays Deportation of Zimbabwean Migrants

  • Lisa Schlein

An immigration official addresses Zimbabweans as they queue outside immigration offices in downtown Johannesburg (file photo – 15 Dec 2010)

An immigration official addresses Zimbabweans as they queue outside immigration offices in downtown Johannesburg (file photo – 15 Dec 2010)

The South African government says it is extending its deadline for deporting irregular Zimbabwean migrants until July 31. The Geneva-based International Organization for Migration says it welcomes this extension and is ready to assist Zimbabweans who are forced to leave South Africa.

South Africa says the moratorium for deporting irregular migrants to Zimbabwe will be lifted on August 1st. It says this will give the migrants more time to gather the documents they need to legalize their status.

The extension of the moratorium also will give the Department of Home Affairs more time to process applications.

The South African government ran a campaign to regularize Zimbabwean migrants from September until the end of December.

The International Organization for Migration says it fears hundreds of thousands of irregular migrants could face deportation from South Africa.

IOM spokeswoman, Jemini Pandya, tells VOA there is an estimated 1.5 million Zimbabwean migrants in the country. But, fewer than 276,000 or about one-sixth of the irregular migrant population have applied for legal status.

“It is hard to know exactly why not more have actually applied,” Pandya said. “It could also be because they simply did not manage to get the paper work that they needed in order to submit their applications because one of the things they also do need is a passport, a Zimbabwean passport. And, in Zimbabwe itself there is a backlog of passports that needed processing and the last I was aware was that at the start of this year there were no new passports being issued due to some technical issues.”

Pandya says the reprieve on deportations will allow those migrants who have registered for the legalization program to get hold of the relevant paper work.

In preparation for the anticipated deportations, she says IOM and its partners are pre-positioning food and shelter supplies at reception centers at the Beitbridge and Plumtree border crossings in Zimbabwe.

“In the past, these reception centers provide not just shelter and food, but also medical assistance,” she added. “Irregular migrants are often in poor health and need health care as well as information and advice and referral on HIV/AIDS assistance. And, finally, transport assistance for them to get back home…What happens when they are deported, they are taken to the border and left at the border and very often people do not have the means to get back to their homes. What IOM will be doing is providing transport assistance to their final destinations for those who have no means.”

As part of its humanitarian and protection assistance operation, Pandya says IOM is working to raise awareness among the police about the migrants’ legal rights. She says the agency is informing police officials they are not to arrest or deport the migrants until the moratorium on deportations runs out at the end of July.