The United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees said Friday that the number of Zimbabweans seeking refuge in South Africa has surged since the presidential run-off vote June 27 which brought a new wave of political violence in Zimbabwe.

The U.N. agency said the patterns of displacement have meanwhile shifted from single men and women seeking employment to entire families fleeing political violence. The UNHCR said it is working on ways to help those needing assistance, especially in Musina, near the border, where many destitute Zimbabweans are living in the bush and begging at traffic lights.

The UN agency has urged the South African government not to deport Zimbabwean refugees who might face political reprisals.

Meanwhile the South African Broadcasting Corporation reported that the Department of Home Affairs said it will investigate the allegations of mass deportations of Zimbabweans that were highlight in the UNHCR statement. Home Affairs Communications Director Siobhan McCarthy told SABC a delegation will travel to Musina on Saturday to look into the allegations.

UNHCR Spokeswoman Jennifer Pagonis said in an interview from Geneva that the agency is concerned that South African authorities have deported some 17,000 Zimbabweans in the past 40 days who might have faced official reprisals once back on their home soil.

Operations Manager Stella Mkiliwane of the Refugee Ministries Center in Johannesburg told reporter Patience Rusere that Zimbabwean refugees are in an increasingly desperate plight and that South African authorities are failing to cope with the new influx.

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