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Large Numbers of Zimbabweans Leaving the Country

The lines for basic foodstuffs and bank notes have disappeared in Zimbabwe, at least for the time being, after the government took emergency measures. But, the lines of people wanting to leave the crisis-ridden country are getting longer.

At the British High Commission in Harare, an official says more than 100 visa applications are processed daily. Two thirds of the visa requests are granted.

So many Zimbabweans have moved to London that they have started calling it Harare-North.

The British government responded to the increased number of Zimbabweans wanting to go to Britain by introducing a visa regime in 2002.

For many of the would-be emigrants, economics was the main motivation, as they tried to flee the country's deepening economic crisis. But for many others, the government's policies toward the press, the political opposition and human rights activists led them to seek political asylum.

The British government charged that some of those leaving Zimbabwe under the guise of seeking political asylum were actually trying to move to Britain for economic reasons.

Zimbabweans are also heading to other destinations.

Many try to go to South Africa. But the legal process has gotten more difficult, with tightened visa procedures, including a requirement that the applicant have a sufficient amount of South African currency, which is very hard to get in Zimbabwe.

But the visa regulations mean little to thousands of Zimbabweans who risk life and limb by wading across the crocodile-infested Limpopo River, which forms the border between South Africa and Zimbabwe. The illegal immigrants end up working on farms, or doing other badly paid menial jobs in South Africa.

The South African Department of Home Affairs told the online news service CNS News that the police arrest about 300 illegal Zimbabwean immigrants every day.

Another popular destination is Botswana, where Zimbabweans do not need a visa for short-term entry. Thousands are abusing the privilege by overstaying the dates on their entry stamps to look for work. Many just walk across the border. According to the London-based newsletter ZW-News report, the Botswana immigration department says 125,000 Zimbabweans cross into Botswana every month.

The Botswana government is putting up an electrified fence along the border. The fence is seen as an attempt to contain the 'border jumpers,' as the illegal immigrants are known.

But the Botswana government says it is more worried about another kind of 'border jumper' from Zimbabwe. The government says the fence is designed to prevent Zimbabwean animals from crossing the border, and potentially infecting its herds with foot and mouth disease. There have been some outbreaks of the disease on the Zimbabwean side of the border, and beef is one of Botswana's biggest foreign currency earners.