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IOM Opens Labor Migration Center in South Africa for Migrants from Zimbabwe

The International Organization for Migration is opening a Labor Migration Center Friday in the South African town of Beitbridge, which shares a border with Zimbabwe. IOM says the center aims to promote safe and orderly labor migration between both countries by matching up seasonal migrant workers from Zimbabwe with commercial farms in South Africa.

Hundreds of thousands of desperate migrants cross the Limpopo River from Zimbabwe into South Africa every year in search of work. Many find jobs in the informal sector. But, their illegal status makes them vulnerable to abuse and exploitation.

Spokesman for the International Organization for Migration, Jean-Philippe Chauzy, tells VOA, the IOM is opening the Labor Migration Center in Beitbridge to facilitate the flow of seasonal migrant workers to South Africa and reduce the risks that come with irregular migration.

He says the new Center operates in partnership with the Zimbabwean Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare and the South African Department of Labor. He says no one expects the Center to solve the problem of irregular migration.

Rather, he says, it is part of a pilot project, which will match an estimated 5,000 Zimbabwean job seekers with the labor needs of five commercial farms in South Africa.

"But, they will go with their passports in order," said Chauzy. "They will go with a contract and they will go, obviously, as seasonal workers. It is an attempt, if you want, to try and put some management into the huge migration flows between Zimbabwe and South Africa. Of course, there are many more than 5,000 Zimbabweans who wish to be employed in South Africa legally, but for the moment what we are doing is setting up a data base with the names and the dates of those migrants from Zimbabwe who want to work in South Africa."

Chauzy says IOM will try and match the offer with the demand and make sure that those Zimbabweans who leave under this labor migration program have a positive experience.

Illegal migration from Zimbabwe into South Africa hit a peak last year when the country was struggling with an economic-social collapse and a cholera epidemic. This led to mass protests in South Africa by those who believed the Zimbabweans were taking jobs away from them. Many migrants were killed and wounded in these riots.

Chauzy says most of the jobs taken by Zimbabwean migrants are very badly paid and the work conditions are demeaning. He says they take the jobs that South Africans do not want.

"So, what we are trying to do here is set up a system that will address some of the needs of those big commercial farms in South Africa to provide those employers with young Zimbabwean migrants who want to be employed in South Africa and who want to be employed legally," he said.

Chauzy says those Zimbabweans who want to participate in the pilot project should register with their District Labor Center. He says their profiles will be sent to the IOM database in Beitbridge. He says custom designed software will match their applications with the labor needs of the South African farmers.