South Africa overwhelmed by new arrivals of Zimbabwean refugees

By Tichaona Sibanda
1 May 2007

There are reports South African authorities are being overwhelmed by the mass new arrivals of Zimbabwean refugees fleeing the current crackdown by Robert Mugabe’s security forces.

According to Solomon Chikohwero, vice chairman of Zimbabwe’s civic society organisations in Johannesburg, the latest victims of the turbulent situation back home have stretched the resources offered by the South African government.

‘In the last two month alone, over 50 000 people are reported to have crossed over from Zimbabwe to South Africa. The system of dealing with refugees here was not meant for such high numbers. Just last year, Home Affairs officials used to deal with about 20 to 30 cases of new arrivals each week but now they are dealing with over 2000 people every week,’ Chikohwero said.

Most of those who fled the country in the last six weeks have urgently been seeking medical treatment after being refused care in Zimbabwe following violent attacks on opposition activists.

Chikohwero added; ‘on a daily basis we take a number of new arrivals to hospitals. With or without documentation, we help every Zimbabwean who comes our way. We have also been overwhelmed but there is nothing we can do, we just can’t ignore them.’

The growing tide of refugees’ raises uncomfortable questions for a South African government that came to power in the name of human rights but that has refused to criticise Mugabe. Chikohwero said only the South African government can put a stop to what is happening with Zimbabwe and the refugees

‘I think President Thabo Mbeki recognises that the flood of refugees along their quite open border will worsen, unless there is a political solution inside Zimbabwe. So Mbeki has to act fast to avert a potentially disastrous episode in his country,’ he said.



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