Illegal migrants scuttle lockdown gains

Freddy Mambara

AT a time countries in the region are recording a significant decline in Covid-19 cases due to strict lockdown regulations including border closures, experts are worried that these gains can be reversed by illegal migrants using undesignated crossing points.

Illegal migrants, predominantly from Zimbabwe, evade the formal ports of entry to trek to South Africa for greener pastures.

These illegal movements are scuttling efforts by the government to fight Covid-19, especially given the highly infectious South African coronavirus variant.

The closure of the Zimbabwe-South Africa border at Beitbridge to curb the spread of Covid-19 resulted in a drop by 95% of legal border crossing per day. It increased border jumping by almost 100% during lockdown compared to before the restrictions, according to official figures.

Mpilo Central Hospital acting chief executive officer, Solwayo Ngwenya warned that border jumping was risky.

“It is very dangerous to be crossing the border illegally. I know they are trying to meet economic needs but in the long term, they may die and not achieve anything leaving behind orphans and so forth and spreading the disease in the community,” he said.

“South Africa has a lot of infections with a new deadlier variant of the disease, so border jumping brings it here; it’s going to ravage Zimbabwe and accelerate the progression of this pandemic. It’s very sad that people are doing it.

“This means that the whole population will get a lot of infection spiraling out of control and put everyone at grave risk from this virus. If this continues unabated, people will be at risk of dying in large numbers. I do not know what we can do to change the people’s behaviour because now if you look in towns, people are back doing their vending,” Ngwenya said.

“The good advice is that it is better to be alive with an empty stomach or your business being temporarily closed and you making very little, than to have your business full of money and your stomach full of food and being buried at the graveyard.

“So people should think. This pandemic is going to cause a lot of havoc going forward. So my advice is that people should stay at home and not attend funerals unless it’s a very close relative. The funeral vigils and burials are super spreaders of Covid-19.”

Ngwenya’s remarks come in the wake of the latest International Organisation for Migration (IOM) survey report conducted in Beitbridge and other border areas in support of the government of Zimbabwe’s National Preparedness and Response plan for Covid-19.

IOM Zimbabwe communications specialist Fadzai Nyamande-Pangeti said the agency recently facilitated a Population Mobility Mapping (PMM) that started on October 13 in Beitbridge.

“The PMM included representatives from government  and non-governmental entities namely, the Ministry of Health and Childcare, World Health Organisation, Zimbabwe National Statistics Agency, National Migration Coordination Directorate, Ministry of Local Government, Public Works, and National Housing, Ministry of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare, Beitbridge Municipality, Rural District Council, Department of Immigration and the Zimbabwe Republic Police,” Nyamande-Pangeti noted.

Due to economic challenges in Zimbabwe, Beitbridge border has always experienced high volumes of people going to SA either as illegal or legal migrants to seek greener pastures or for buying and selling of goods.

“The findings of PMM proved that both Beitbridge rural and urban districts are high mobility districts, with Beitbridge Border Post as the main official point of entry into Zimbabwe from SA and more than 22 unofficial points of entry, indicative of high irregular migration,” IOM report reads in part.

The IOM report says the Beitbridge official entry point, before the national lockdown, recorded 15 000 entries daily, which dropped to 800 people per day during the lockdown, signifying a 95% decline.

The report says there are 22 illegal entry-exit points accounting for a 1 230 illegal migrants per day.