GABORONE - Hundreds of Zimbabweans living in Botswana are applying for a trip home, saying the COVID-19 crisis has left them on the edge of starvation. The immigrants usually survive by doing odd jobs, but with Botswana in a lockdown due the coronavirus, they cannot find work to support themselves.
Additionally, the immigrants were initially excluded from the Botswana government's food parcels.
"We are in a bad state," said Josephine Mutsaka, 54, one of many Zimbabwean illegal immigrants in Gaborone. "We have no food at the moment, and the only option is to go back home. When we are in Botswana, we survive through 'piece jobs' but that has stopped because of the lockdown. We can't blame the Botswana government for giving priority to its citizens."
Botswana's Minister of Foreign Affairs, Unity Dow, told local media that officials are discussing how to address the plight of immigrants.
Some Zimbabweans had crossed into Botswana for shopping but were kept in due to the lockdown.
Some immigrants, like Tendai Ndlovu, are eager to return home, although returning Zimbabwean residents face a mandatory 14-day quarantine.
Ndlovu is wary of being locked in the Zimbabwe government's holding center.
"We do not know how long the coronavirus will be around," Ndlovu said. "In the meantime, I want to return home to be with family, although I have heard people complain of poor conditions during the quarantine in Plumtree."
Plumtree is the only crossing point between the southern African neighbors that is currently open.
A Zimbabwean embassy official confirmed the office has begun a process to repatriate both legal and illegal Zimbabwean immigrants.
It's not known how many Zimbabweans live in Botswana, but in an average year, Botswana's government deports about 15,000 illegal immigrants to Zimbabwe.
The Botswana government says it will assist the immigrants with transport up to the two countries' border post, with the first returnees expected at the Plumtree entry point on Thursday.