South Africa guns for mass deportation of permit holders

Review & Mail Writers

The Zimbabwean government and the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) say they are prepared for a possible mass deportation of Zimbabwe Exemption Permit Holders  from  South Africa should they fail to regularise their stay in the country at the expiry of their permits in December.

More than 200 000 Zimbabweans face deportation from the neighbouring country after the South Africa government indicated it will not renew their permits when they expire on December 31, 2022.

The country’s Home Affairs department ordered all ZEP holders to apply for other available permits by December 31 and regularise their stay in the country or face deportation.

And with only three months left before the expiry of the permits, fears have been raised over the preparedness by Zimbabwe to handle the anticipated influx of returnees, some of whom have stayed in South Africa for more than 15 years.

But an official with the Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare, responding to questions at an IOM Validation of the Regional Framework for Action to Address Disaster Displacement in Southern Africa held in Harare Thursday, said the country was adequately prepared for any eventuality.

“We have put in place mechanisms to receive those people at Beitbridge and Plumtree where we will receive immigrants from various situations. We have also recently established a repatriation centre at the border of Zambia and Zimbabwe; we have the capacity,” he said.

He said government was working hand in glove with the IOM to provide psycho-social and socio-economic support to the affected.

Director of the Department of Civil Protection, Farai Hokoya said when the country was faced with such a huge influx of returnees, it would have to relax some of the stringent regulations to ensure smooth passage of the returnees.

“It will be no longer just an immigration issue alone, but we will have to include other departments including the security sector. We have already upgraded the Beitbridge Border Post, we will always have a plan for our people,” he said.

Migration Policy and Governance Officer with IOM, Rangarirayi Tigere said they were in discussions with other United Nations organs and the Government of Zimbabwe to mobilise resources to support government in the event Zimbabwean migrants returned enmasse.

“We have also, through the Africa Regional Migration Policy (ARMP) proposed a very small simulation exercise at Beitbridge to test capacity – a mock drilling to see what gaps need strengthening to ensure that the system is fully functional,” he said.

Although several civic groups in and outside South Africa have made court applications challenging that country’s Home Affairs minister Aaron Motsoaledi’s decision to terminate permits for Zimbabwean immigrants in the neighbouring country, the SA government is not likely to rescind its decision.

The Helen Suzman Foundation was the first to launch legal action against Cabinet’s decision in November 2021 to terminate the Zimbabwean Exemption Permits, arguing that the process allowed little time for notification and public consultation.

Established in 1993, the Helen Suzman Foundation (HSF) is a non-governmental, non-profit organisation which promotes liberal constitutional democracy and the rule of law in South Africa.

The Zimbabwean Immigration Federation and two other civic organisation have also filed similar cases which are still pending at the South African High Court. 

The ZEP permits had offered sanctuary to more than 200 000 Zimbabweans as it allowed them to legally live, work and study in South Africa.

However, these immigrants now face a bleak future in the neighbouring country as they now have to choose either to live as undocumented immigrants, while risking sporadic xenophobic attacks or return home, where many have not invested much in terms their livelihoods as they had settled in SA.

The government of Zimbabwe has given up hope of rescuing the situation for its nationals saying it will respect South Africa’s sovereign decision.

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