Respect foreign-based returnees

THE shoddy manner in which the government has treated some returning residents who are now under mandatory Covid-19 quarantine has left a sour taste in the mouth.

This has been worsened by the attitude of some locally based citizens who have refused to show compassion. Whether domiciled abroad or at home, we are all citizens of Zimbabwe and must be treated humanely in line with constitutional stipulations and international protocol.

Foreign-based Zimbabweans — or diasporans as they are usually called in this part of the world — play a crucial role in the economy. Last year alone, they sent US$635 million through official channels —although we all know that a lot of money comes via informal means.

Despite this huge contribution to national survival, diasporans are routinely treated with suspicion by paranoid governments whose preoccupation is power retention rather than service delivery and socio-economic progress. It explains why in countries like Zimbabwe diasporans are denied the vote — yet they are doing much more for the day-to-day survival of families back home than the incompetent authorities ever can.

According to the latest statistics used by aid agencies aligned to the United Nations, there are more people in Zimbabwe who depend on diaspora remittances than wages from formal employment. An estimated 5,3% of all households in this country — compared to 4,9% for formal wages — survive on remittances from abroad. In a country where 34,9% of all households survive on casual labour, remittances are important. This highlights the highly informalised nature of the economy.

There are more households which survive on diaspora remittances than on formal jobs. When these foreign-based citizens are bad-mouthed or denounced unfairly, it is tantamount to adding salt to injury since they are already being short-changed by a government that denies them the vote.

In 2008 when the economy crumbled spectacularly into a heap of rubble, how did Zimbabweans keep body and soul together? Most owe their survival to the aid agencies and diaspora remittances.

Covid-19 is bad news, not just from a healthcare perspective but also from the remittance dimension. A World Bank report this week revealed that cash inflows could decline by 20% to US$445 billion this year owing to the economic crisis caused by the shutdown.

Although all workers are affected, migrants are vulnerable because in most instances they are not eligible for social safety nets which local workers have access to.

The UN Conference on Trade and Development says remittances sent home by migrant workers increased from US$38,4 billion between 2005-2007 to US$64,9 billion in the two-year period up to the end of 2016. Remittances accounted for almost 50% of the capital flowing into Africa.

Watch and learn. It is when the remittances drastically dwindle that people will begin to appreciate the importance of foreign-based citizens.