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Botswana Battles Influx of Zimbabwean Illegal Immigrants

FILE - Residents collect water at night from an electric-powered well, as the country faces 18-hour daily power cuts, in a suburb of Harare, Zimbabwe, July 30, 2019.

Botswana is battling an influx of illegal immigrants from Zimbabwe, as the Zimbabwean government struggles to overcome a deep economic crisis. But authorities in Botswana appear to be losing the battle, as those who are deported are soon back in the country.

Prosper Kandanhamo and Thomas Gundani left Zimbabwe and entered Botswana illegally because of the moribund economy in their homeland.

“I came to Botswana because back home in Zimbabwe, there are no job opportunities,” Kandanhamo said.

The two are among the many illegal immigrants from Zimbabwe who line the streets of Gaborone looking for odd jobs.

Not so welcome

But they are an unwelcome sight for authorities and subject to frequent police raids.

The number of Zimbabweans arrested and deported in Botswana rose from 22,000 in 2015 to nearly 29,000 in 2018.

Kandanhamo, an accountant, says they are often caught.

“It’s better to be caught by the police,” he said. “At the (police) cells, they will give you food and transport to the border. They deport you, and you find your way back (rather) than to go back to Zimbabwe.”

Gundani, a painter, says they would rather risk arrest than return to face hardship in Zimbabwe.

“We just have to come back,” he said. “The situation here is difficult for us, but compared to Zimbabwe, it’s worse.”

Botswanan citizens like Moemedi Mokgachane say illegal immigrants contribute to rising crime and are demanding a solution.

“We take them back today, tomorrow they are here, because there is nothing to hide. There is nothing that can put them to stay where you are taking them. They will come back because they know there is a fruit here,” Mokgachane said.

Solution lies in Zimbabwe

Illegal immigration will persist as long as Zimbabwe’s economic crisis is not addressed, says Gaborone-based analyst Lawrence Ookeditse.

“For so long as economic and other opportunities are not quite there, people are going to move, and you can’t stop them from moving,” he said. “It is not nice going through a border hunted with guns and all those things. When you see people doing it, it means the cost of doing it is higher than the cost of staying.”

Botswana spends about $100,000 a year deporting Zimbabwean illegal immigrants.