Zimbabwean Immigrants Face Harsh Realities in Musina

Thursday, 30 October 2008 13:01


The Zimbabwe Exiles Forum (ZEF) is appalled by the treatment and arbitrary arrest of Zimbabwean immigrants in Musina, the majority of who are fleeing torture and persecution and are genuinely seeking asylum and peace in South Africa. These victims of human rights abuses face insurmountable challenges, from lack of access to the Refugee Reception Office for service, to being kicked out of places of safety where they would have sought refuge by intolerant local authorities. Their only option is to stay within the show grounds where the Reception Offices are. Here there is no shelter from the harsh Musina weather, with only a few toilets to cater for hundreds of applicants, many of them unaccompanied minors, women and children. If they try to leave, they risk being detained and deported, if not, they are abducted, robbed and assaulted by the ever lurking magumaguma (robbers) or malayitshas (human traffickers) who take anything and everything.

During a 3-day mission to the Zimbabwe-South Africa border on the 15th of October, the ZEF team visited the show grounds where the asylum seekers are staying. ZEF was alarmed by the level of suffering the applicants were experiencing, amongst them hordes of women and children. There are hundreds of asylum seekers cramped into the little spaces where there is shelter from the sun and the rain, huddled together for protection. These brothers and sisters are hungry and scared, and there seems to be no one to hear their pleas.

Upon being interviewed, most of the applicants alleged that they were exposed to all sorts of challenges, among them lack of access to legalise their stay, exploitation and intimidation by officials, being chased from places of safety such as churches, as well as in some instances experiencing abductions, rape and assault. There were also reports that minors were detained with adult detainees under inhumane conditions in the Detention Centre at the Musina Army Base or at the police station. ZEF also received confirmation of these incidents from local humanitarian organisations operating in Musina. It is unbearably hot in Musina (38 degrees Celsius) and the detainees are made to sit on the floor, in a warehouse building with no air conditioning. The roof of the detention centre is of corrugated iron, which makes the heat inside the building intolerable.

From the migrants ZEF interviewed, it is clear that the majority fled from Zimbabwe fearing for their lives either because of starvation or political intolerance. As such, these people deserve fair treatment in line with universally accepted refugee principles to which South Africa is a party. It is no secret that gross human rights violations are still ongoing in Zimbabwe, despite the so-called deal between the major political parties. Instead, the asylum seekers are subjected to all forms of harassment and labelled economic refugees.

The unfair treatment and inhumane conditions to which asylum seekers from Zimbabwe are subjected to are in contravention of universal human rights norms and principles to which South Africa is party. Breaches of this nature seem to be carried out irrespective of whether these men, women and children are genuine asylum seekers or not, the determination of which can only be made after a transparent, victim friendly process, in respect of the South African Refugee Act and Constitution.

In this regard, ZEF is appealing to the South African Government, Local and provincial authorities and the reception office to address the needs of migrants in Musina. The urgent needs are food, security, shelter and medical assistance. It further appeals to the responsible authorities to allow humanitarian and other service organisations to offer such assistance without fear of retribution. ZEF believes that a partnership between authorities and these organisations would go a long way in alleviating the suffering of the already traumatised migrants. Lastly, ZEF appeals to all humanitarian organisations, churches and well wishers to help the asylum seekers who are in such dire need, not only in Musina but all over South Africa and the Diaspora at large. It is no secret that unaccompanied minors, women and children are bearing the brunt of this suffering.

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