South Africa has deported more than 250 Zimbabweans this week and may expel twice as many by this weekend.
While officials from South Africa's Department of Home Affairs say they are deporting only undocumented foreigners - so-called border jumpers who recently entered South Africa illegally - one non-governmental organization insists that others are being unjustly kicked out.
Braam Hanekom, spokesman for People Against Suffering, Oppression and Poverty, an immigrant rights group, says some of those targeted for deportation are victims of sluggish bureaucracy. Many illegal Zimbabweans, he says, have yet to see passport applications processed by Harare officials, while others have yet to see residency applications processed by South African officials.
Hundreds of thousands of Zimbabweans have fled to South Africa since 2000, many of whom have sought refuge from political repression by President Robert Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party loyalists or were unable to survive hardships of the collapsed economy. In September of last year, South African cabinet members announced plans to terminate a 2009 deal for Zimbabwean migrants that allowed them to remain in the country without documents.
During that period more than 250,000 Zimbabweans illegally in South Africa managed to establish proper documentation that enabled them to stay. However, Harare could not quickly issue passports to all who requested them.
"The whole process of deportations threatens the stability of foreign nationals in communities and this is very much how xenophobic violence erupted in 2008 when people went door to door," said Hanekom.
The International Organization for Migration has established reception centers at Zimbabwe’s southern border with South Africa to assist those deported and says it can help about 600 people at any one time.