South Africa has deported over 25 000 undocumented Zimbabweans since October last year, immigration officials and civic society groups have said.
According to People Against Suffering, Oppression and Poverty and the Solidarity Peace Trust about 7 000 immigrants were deported between January and March this year.
On Tuesday, South African authorities deported 587 illegal Zimbabwean immigrants. The groups described deportation as an ineffective and expensive way of curbing the influx of illegal immigrants.
“The focus on deportations rather than documentation reduces the resources of the government to combat real criminals and creates a climate that encourages xenophobia. Deportations are an ineffective and an expensive policy as those deported almost always return within days,” the report said.
South Africa receives more asylum seekers than any other country in the world, the report said. Immigrants came from Zimbabwe, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi, Ethiopia, Rwanda and Somalia mostly fleeing poverty and political instability in their home countries.
Up to 1, 4 million of South Africa’s refugees and asylum seekers were Zimbabweans — representing almost 15% of Zimbabwe’s population.
“In a survey carried out by the civil groups, over 200 respondents out of 227 said they would return if they were deported, while 144 of them had already been deported before and returned,” the report added.
The groups urged South Africa to reintroduce the Zimbabwean Dispensation Project (ZDP) to regularise the stay of undocumented Zimbabwean immigrants.
They also called on South Africa to declare a moratorium on deportations until Zimbabwe has held fresh elections.
Several Zimbabweans regularised their stay in South Africa when the ZDP was introduced two years ago.
Meanwhile, Zimbabwe immigration department’s assistant regional manager at Beitbridge, Charles Gwede, 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,” Gwede 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.”