South Africa has extended the deadline for Zimbabweans living there to regularise their stay in that country from December 31 to March 31.
The announcement by Ricky Naidoo, the spokesman for the South African Home Affairs department, came as the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) announced it was preparing to assist Zimbabweans who faced deportation from the country.
In an interview with NewsDay on Sunday, a member of the inter-party committee helping Zimbabweans through the registration process, said his team was preparing to meet the Home Affairs department this week over the permits issue.
“What we will be doing during these three months is to fully understand the reasons for department’s refusal of thousands of applications that have been turned down,” he said.
Already 10 000 Zimbabweans have been denied permits.
Dube said they would engage the Home Affairs department concerning the safety of Zimbabwean immigrants’ property rights.
“There are people who acquired property and bonds using South African IDs. We would like to engage the department over the fate of their property.
“Those who have surrendered their IDs should not lose their property and their bonds,” he said.
In September 2010 South Africa announced a moratorium on deporting Zimbabweans and said it would allow them until 31 December 2010 to regularise their stay by applying for work, business or study permits.
Announcing the extension on Saturday, Naidoo said this would give the department time to process more than 275 000 applications for permits received from Zimbabwean migrants.
He said they hoped the process would be completed in, “the next few weeks”.
Dube said they were happy that the South African Home Affairs department had “stopped deportations for now”.
“What we agreed with them was that they would stop deporting Zimbabweans until the whole thing of permits is over,” he said.
The IOM has noted that hundreds of thousands of Zimbabwean migrants could face deportation from South Africa, “as only about a sixth of the estimated Zimbabwean irregular migrant population applied for legal status”.
“There are an estimated 1,5 million Zimbabweans living in South Africa, many of whom migrated as a result of the social and economic unrest in Zimbabwe in recent years,” the organisation said in a statement.
IOM said it was on standby to provide free transport to deportees from the Beitbridge border and the Plumtree border posts.
“IOM, together with humanitarian partners and the Zimbabwean and South African governments will provide humanitarian and protection assistance to vulnerable returnees, including unaccompanied minors.
Under the plan, IOM with support from local and international organisations has prepositioned non-food items including tents and blankets at reception and support centres at the Beitbridge and Plumtree border crossings in Zimbabwe,” IOM said in a statement.
Dube said there were several reasons why few Zimbabweans came forward to register.
“The figure is too small and there are two reasons for it. Zimbabweans who are holding South African identity documents (IDs) did not come out in numbers to submit them. We are yet to know how many had submitted. Two weeks ago, less than 2 000 people had submitted their IDs. They are not sure what will happen if they come forward. They are hiding, trying to protect their investments.”