Zimbabwe still tops world list of asylum-seekers


In the clearest indication yet that the formation of the unity government has done little to change the situation in Zimbabwe, a new report has shown that Zimbabweans still top the world list of asylum seekers.
The report by the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) was released last week and is based on findings during 2009, the first year of life under a coalition government in Zimbabwe. The report 2009 Global Trends — Refugees, Asylum-seekers, Returnees, Internally Displaced and Stateless Persons, shows that more than 158 000 Zimbabweans had applied for asylum last year alone.
The report cites “political and economic turmoil” and “uncertainties” over the fragile coalition government as key reasons behind the numbers fleeing the country, a figure which is three times higher than the next list-topping country, Burma.
Zimbabwe’s figures were also alarmingly higher than those of war-torn countries like Afghanistan and Somalia.
The UNHCR report also detailed that nine out of every 10 Zimbabwean asylum claims were lodged in South Africa alone, which has topped the global list as the main destination for asylum seekers.
“South Africa remains the main destination for new asylum claims worldwide with more than 222 000 asylum claims registered in 2009 – almost as many as were lodged in the 27 member states of the European Union,” the report said. “Zimbabweans accounted for two thirds of all claims submitted in 2009 (149 500 applications).”
There are already an estimated three million Zimbabweans in South Africa, with many not following the legal route of applying for asylum. According to the UNHCR report, Zimbabweans are not guaranteed that their applications would be successful as South Africa also has the highest number of people still waiting for a decision on their asylum requests
The situation has left unknown numbers of Zimbabweans in a vulnerable state in South Africa, where xenophobic tensions are said to be on the rise once again. In 2008, many Zimbabweans came under attack by locals in a violent flare-up of xenophobia across the country. The attacks left at least 60 people dead and thousands of foreigners displaced.
Since then, tensions have been simmering and sporadic xenophobic-related attacks have been reported across South Africa.
But concern is now higher than ever, amid new threats that the end of the football World Cup will herald fresh violence against foreigners.
Groups like Amnesty International, The Zimbabwe Exiles’ Forum and the Consortium of Refugees and Migrants in South Africa (Cormsa) have all raised their concerns, with foreigners reporting increased intimidation and open threats of violence. One Zimbabwean refugee wrote recently that foreigners were being issued with written notices to leave South Africa by the time the World Cup draws to an end next month, or face retribution.
The South African government, in response, has set up a ministerial taskforce to closely monitor ‘xenophobic hotspots’.
Cormsa has since submitted a list of recommendations to the ministerial taskforce to effectively combat xenophobic violence.
The list includes publicly condemning all threats or outbreaks of violence, strengthening access to justice for victims of xenophobic violence, and improving accountability of government employees who make any xenophobic threats.