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Thousands of Zimbabweans Apply for Asylum in South African Border Town

The South African border town of Musina is a main crossing point for Zimbabweans trying to escape the cholera epidemic and economic crisis in their country. VOA correspondent Scott Bobb is in Musina and reports on the many Zimbabweans there seeking asylum.

“There are no official numbers, of course, but there have to be thousands. And you see them sitting on the sidewalks and the streets and especially gathered at the city’s show grounds, which is a fair ground that become a makeshift dormitory, feeding center, health center – and also a place where the South African government is now registering those who come across seeking asylum,” he says.

Musina has been a treatment center over recent months for Zimbabweans infected with cholera, but health officials there say the situation appears to under control now. Bobb reports, “There’s still cholera here, but officials say that they feel that they have it stabilized, which means they are not seeing a dramatic increase in numbers that they were a month or month and a half ago. Nevertheless, the epidemic is still seriously out of control across the border and people are still crossing.”

Bobb has talked to some Zimbabweans in Musina about the political and humanitarian situation in their country. He says, “They’re aware of what’s going on, but none of the people to whom I have spoken has expressed any desire to return at least at this time. They have just seen too much. Many are traumatized by the violence they’ve seen. Many have lost family members.”

There are also many Zimbabwean children in Musina, whose parents have died. Bobb says that they have no reason to return home and hope to find a good education in South Africa. “The vast majority of adults, of course, are looking to find jobs and try to re-establish their lives,” he says.

As for registering Zimbabweans who’ve crossed the border, the VOA correspondent says, “Since June or July of last year, the government set up mobile centers to register people who wish to apply for asylum. These are a group of large trucks with basically offices inside, where people from the Home Affairs Ministry will take down the particulars. And they’re registering 300 people per day and processing these. It takes days to weeks for it to come through. So the people hang around the grounds or around town waiting hopefully for their papers to come through,” he says.

Nevertheless, most receive bad news from the South African government. “An official told us 99 percent of those who apply are refused asylum because they’re viewed by the government as primarily economic refugees. They’ve come here looking for better jobs or better lives,” Bobb says.