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Deportees with no way home

Scores of Zimbabwean deportees have been stranded in the town of Beitbridge, across the border from neighbouring South Africa, with no funds to make their way home.

“The Beitbridge border post is crowded with deportees. Even though numbers vary from time to time, there are ab

out 2,000 people being deported from South Africa on a weekly basis, giving a total of 8,000 per month,” said Mohammed Abdiker, the chief of the Geneva-based International Organisation for Migration (IOM) in Zimbabwe.

Thousands cross the border to South Africa every month, driven by the need to escape the economic crisis in Zimbabwe, where inflation has risen to 782 percent and unemployment is over 70 percent.

Despite the fact that “undocumented migrants”, most of them aged below 30, have usually had to settle for poor wages across the border, with the threat of deportation always imminent, they either plan to re-enter South Africa or have settled for a life in the border town.

Shepherd Boriondo, 26, left for South Africa in early June last year, after his second-hand clothes business in the capital, Harare, was destroyed by the government’s Operation Murambatsvina, which was undertaken to get rid of informal settlements and traders deemed ‘illegal’.

Boriondo ended up as a farm labourer for a South African employer, who, he claimed, paid him a pittance. When he was rounded up with other undocumented migrants on the farm over a month ago, it was rumoured that their employer had tipped off the police to avoid paying them their wages.

“The police and immigration officials have stopped bothering me because they know my situation and they cannot help me in any way. But it is not my intention to remain here, and I feel I should return home,” said Boriondo, who earned his keep by cleaning a shop in the border town.

Others say Beitbridge has become their new home. “What should I return home for? Even though I am suffering here, I feel it is better to remain in Beitbridge,” said Teckla, 19, who had worked as a housemaid in the South African capital, Pretoria.

“I think I can raise enough money to live comfortably in the near future and, who knows, even start my own business here,” she said optimistically.

Teckla has taken to prostitution and her clientele comprises cross-border truck drivers. She said she had twice contracted a sexually transmitted disease because the drivers insisted on unprotected sex, but added, “Who cares? We are all going to die after all.”

Some of the deportees, like George Munemo, 21, who had braved the crocodile-infested Limpopo River that marks the border between South Africa and Zimbabwe on three previous occasions, said they intended to cross to South Africa again, “when the time is ripe”.

A reception and support centre at the Beitbridge border is expected to open shortly to provide humanitarian assistance to Zimbabwean migrants deported from South Africa.

Abdiker said the centre, set up by IOM in collaboration with the Zimbabwean and South African governments, should have become operational in February but a lack of electricity had delayed the opening to early May.

“The centre will help the deportees with food rations, transportation, basic healthcare and information on human trafficking and migration, on a voluntary basis. There will also be a child reception centre to cater for children without parents,” he said. It will also help deportees reintegrate by providing them with grants, loans and inputs to take up subsistence farming. — Irin

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