South Africa is considering deporting undocumented Zimbabwean immigrants as from July 31st, leaving about 500,000 people in danger of being sent back to a country that is still politically and economically unstable.
There are an estimated 1.5 million Zimbabweans living in South Africa, according to Braam Hanekom, the head of Cape Town-based refugee advocacy People Against Suffering, Oppression and Poverty (PASSOP).
Hanekom noted that, about 800,000 were undocumented prior to last year’s documentation push, in which 275,000 Zimbabweans applied for work permits.
A new legislation to be implemented next year January, seeks to speed up the decision making process on asylum applications, which could result in the vast majority applicants being denied refugee status, according to Hanekom. The legislation will require Zimbabweans entering South Africa to apply for documentation at the Department of Home Affairs office within five days of entering the country, rather than the current 14, and legalize sentencing illegal immigrants to time in prison.
Hanekom said the rejection rate for those seeking asylum is already high, and speeding up this process could cause it to skyrocket.
“There remain huge, huge problems. We do not believe that it’s appropriate to deport people back to Zimbabwe in the current climate, but we do recognize that there have been several changes which would have affected the South African decision toward Zimbabwe,” he said.
Since the moratorium was implemented, things in Zimbabwe have improved, but remain tenuous. Food remains expensive, but as the country is now using foreign currency rather than the Zimbabwean dollar, the economy is more stable. The cholera epidemic of 2008 and 2009 has, for the most part, subsided. However, unemployment in Zimbabwe is over 80 percent. The president of Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe, has ruled the country since independence in 1980.