BY SILAS NKALA
SOUTH African officials have revealed that not all illegal immigrants, particularly Zimbabweans deported from the neighbouring country, are tested for COVID-19 before being sent back home amid concerns by human rights activists that some may have been infected by the virus while detained at Lindela holding camp in that country.
This was revealed at the Zimbabwe–South Africa cross-border migration management stakeholders meeting held at Musina in South Africa last week.
The meeting was attended by International Organisation for Migration (IOM) officials and various government departments and ministries from both countries.
“The South Africa authorities informed the Zimbabwean delegation that not all deportees are being tested for COVID-19 due to resource constraints. They are only testing suspected cases of COVID-19. Concurrently, the Zimbabwean authorities reported that a significant proportion of deported migrants were testing positive for COVID-19 upon presentation at a quarantine facility,” an IOM report read.
Stakeholders raised concern on the disparity between the two countries in terms of the validity of COVID-19 PCR test certificates, with South Africa requiring 72 hours, while Zimbabwe is at 48 hours.
“The Zimbabwean Ministry of Health authorities noted that the issue was a policy position which could not be decided at the meeting. They did note, however, that countries in the Sadc region needed to synchronise requirements in the region,” the IOM report added.
A Zimbabwean human rights activist based in South Africa, Nobuhle Ajiti, yesterday expressed concern that some of the inmates may have been exposed to COVID-19 at Lindela deportation centre.
“I was doing a follow-up on people who were directly affected by xenophobia. So I went as far as following those who were detained for non-documentation at Lindela, where some nationals are forced to do self-deportation. If you are Zimbabwean, you pay your own bus ticket to go home. Some are saying others die, they get sick until they die in centres because they are not tested when entering the holding camp,” she said.
Last month, the South African Department of Home Affairs deported 672 irregular migrants to Zimbabwe through the Beitbridge Border Post.
Foreign Affairs and International Trade ministry spokesperson Livit Mugejo said government was aware of the plight of Zimbabweans at the Lindela deportation centre.
“In the case of Zimbabweans at Lindela holding camp, there is constant engagement between our mission and the South African Home Affairs ministry,” he said.
“As part of our effort to make sure that our people are treated within the confines of law, we make weekly visits to the deportation centre for the purpose of identifying and assisting our people. It is the Zimbabwean embassy in South Africa’s duty to make sure that all Zimbabweans are provided with necessary assistance.”
Mugejo said nearly 2 000 Zimbabweans, among them 527 deportees, were repatriated from South Africa under the assisted repatriation model.
“It was a pandemic intervention to help our people to come back home. What necessitated the repatriation were the hardships that our nationals were facing following the proclamation of the national state of disaster and the lockdown measures that were implemented,” he said.
Mugejo added that government was working closely with South Africa and IOM to facilitate safe repatriation of Zimbabweans from Lindela as the law does not allow deportees to stay beyond 120 days in detention camps.
He would not comment on the claims that some people died while detained at the holding centre.
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