In 2009, South Africa invited Zimbabweans resident in that country to apply for special dispensation permits to legally live and work in the country.
Nearly 275,000 people were granted permits before the deadline expired, and South Africa announced in October 2011 that deportations would commence.
On Tuesday, South African authorities disgorged 587 illegal Zimbabwean immigrants from seven busloads at the border.
Charles Gwede, Zimbabwe immigration department’s assistant regional manager at Beitbridge, said they expected the number of people being deported to increase – because record numbers were entering South Africa at undesignated points.
“There has been a sharp increase in the number of people capitalising on the drop in water levels to cross the Limpopo River into South Africa,” he said.
“We would like to warn people against using undesignated entry points as they risk being attacked by robbers who operate in wooded areas along the river.”
Zimbabwean authorities are critical of South Africa’s decision to deport ex-convicts and ordinary families together. Gwede said this had fuelled crime in Beitbridge town as police were not able to isolate the “bad apples” for better policing.
Gwede said: “South African authorities are supposed to deport ex-convicts separately but sadly we continue to receive them mixed, and that is now a major challenge.
“They are supposed to be vetted first and then categorised accordingly because most of them end up engaging in criminal activities.”
On arrival in the country, the deportees are received by the immigration authorities at the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) Beitbridge Reception and Support Centre (BRSC) who vet them to ascertain whether they are bona fide Zimbabweans.
Soon after that process, IOM offers the deportees overnight accommodation, medication, food and transport to proceed to their respective homes.
The IOM BRSC has the capacity to accommodate 600 people at any given time.
Some of the deportees turn down any form of assistance from the IOM and those who opt to go home using their own means are released.
Buw Gwede says many of those let go simply cross back into South Africa an undesignated entry points.