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DEVELOPMENT-ZIMBABWE: As Long as Crisis Continues, Border Jumping Will

Davison Makanga

HARARE, May 25 2007 (IPS) - Attempts to convince Zimbabweans to stay in their country are futile as long as the political and economic crisis continues, say activists and politicians.

The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) has launched a campaign in Zimbabwe to dissuade the youth from crossing the border to neighbouring countries.

But Nicholas Mukaronda, coordinator of the Crisis In Zimbabwe Coalition based in South Africa, said that economic stabilisation is the only lasting solution to migration dynamics facing the southern African nation.

‘‘Unless the people are assured of a stable economic situation, nothing will lure exiled youths back,” Mukaronda told IPS.

Wilson Khumbula, an opposition politician, also said that especially young men will continue to desert their communities for neighbouring countries.

‘‘Girls are turning to prostitution and young men are crossing the borders illegally because of the economic hardships and political retribution. Unless these fundamental issues are addressed, we will see more border-crossing,” added Khumbula.

Moses Churu, a 30-year-old man who was recently deported, confirmed what Mukaronda and Khumbula said: ‘‘I am trying to find my way back to South Africa. I know the risks but I do not have any choice. Things are hard here.”

According to IOM statistics, 25 percent of deported youths unsuccessfully applied for passports. Some 28 percent stated that the high cost of a visa deterred them from applying for one.

Acquiring a South African visa is a far-fetched idea for many as one has to produce traveller’s cheques worth 2,000 South African rand (about 285 US dollars).

It is also becoming increasingly difficult for ordinary Zimbabweans to get passports. The registry temporarily suspended the processing of passports last year due to high costs.

IOM opened a youth information centre, called Safe Zone, in Chiredzi in the south-western part of Zimbabwe earlier this month. Chiredzi is only two hours from the border with South Africa, and is therefore an area where high numbers of border jumpers pass through.

The centre also provides a haven for deportees who have returned home. ‘‘Safe Zone is a place where youths can enjoy themselves and be informed through daily education sessions on safe migration, responsible sexual practices and HIV prevention,” Nicola Simmonds, IOM Zimbabwe’s communications officer told IPS.

IOM has also launched a ‘‘safe journey road show” which goes around Zimbabwe. The road show is done with a truck that converts into a stage and a giant movie screen with a crew of actors trained in interactive theatre. Through audiovisual information packages, the target audience is drawn in by music, dance and film.

They can win t-shirts, posters and music cassettes. The messaging revolves around illegal migration, human trafficking and HIV/AIDS.

‘‘I have seen the films and they are good. They are in local languages. I have learnt a lot. It has made me think twice about border jumping,” said Solo Chauke of Tshovani township in Chiredzi.

‘‘The response has been amazing so far. We draw huge crowds every night. During the day we have youth clubs that help spread the message in the community,” added Simmonds.

IOM bases its activities on statistics that an estimated 17,500 illegal migrants are being deported every month from neighbouring South Africa and Botswana. Some 70 percent of deportees are from south east Zimbabwe.

IOM has initiated hairdressing and carpentry income-generating projects and plans are underway to help illegal Zimbabwean migrants in cities like Johannesburg to return home.

One such initiative received an indifferent response in the United Kingdom. IOM offered packages worth 3,000 British pounds (about 4,300 US dollars) for voluntary repatriation but the initiative failed. Thousands of Zimbabweans are illegally living overseas, with an unofficial figure that 2,5 million are residing in South Africa alone.

A support centre was set up at the Zimbabwe-South Africa border post town of Beit Bridge. To date, thousands have benefited from the centre by receiving medication and travelling money. A shocking number of 1,450 unaccompanied children have also passed through the centre.

Khumbula is concerned that the ruling party, ZANU-PF, will hijack the IOM programme. ‘‘We are heading towards the 2008 elections. ZANU PF will use its old trick of hijacking these projects.”

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