Broke govt in fix over Covid-19 returnees . . . as SA, Botswana deports more than 25 000 Zimbos

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Maxwell Sibanda

Assistant Editor 

THE government has to urgently work out ways to assist thousands of jobless and desperate Zimbabweans being deported back into the country from neighbouring nations, analysts contend.

Zimbabweans, who left the country for greener pastures, are trooping back home in light of the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic.

This comes as over 1 000 Zimbabweans have so far in the last seven days been assisted to come back home by the Zimbabwe embassy in Pretoria, South Africa. They are being dropped off at the National Social Security (NSSA) Beitbridge Hotel, which is being used as a quarantine and isolation centre. On Thursday, the government said it had entered into a partnership with South Africa-based businessman Justice Maphosa to transport a further 400 Zimbabweans back home through the Beitbridge Border Post.

South Africa and Botswana deported a combined 25 300 Zimbabweans between January 1 and April 30 this year, official figures showed. During the same period last year, 17 023 deportees were recorded from both countries.
Matabeleland South police said 23 150 people, mainly illegal immigrants, were deported from South Africa through the Beitbridge Border Post, while 2 151 arrived from western neighbour Botswana through Plumtree Border Post.

“On average, about 100 people are deported from Botswana while between 200 and 300 are deported from South Africa every day,” Matabeleland South police spokesperson assistant inspector Christopher Ngwenya said.
Those deported would have either breached immigration laws such as overstaying, resulting in the cancellation of their permits or crossing borders without valid travel documents.

On arrival, deportees are taken to International Organisation for Migration (IOM) Reception and Support Centres at Beitbridge and Plumtree where they are given food and temporary shelter before being offered transport assistance to their homes.

Recently, Manicaland received 229 Zimbabweans returning from various countries who were housed at four quarantine facilities in Mutare as more Zimbabweans troop back home in light of the Covid-19 pandemic. The province has been on high alert following reports that hundreds of returnees from abroad are supposed to come through the port of Beira.

Apart from those coming from the region, there are hundreds who are coming from overseas countries that include the United Kindom.

Social analyst Rashweat Mkundu said Zimbabwe is in a social crisis as the many people returning home from mostly South Africa need support.

“The government will need a comprehensive reintegration programme that looks to support small-scale businesses, both formal and informal. This needs working with local authorities both in urban and rural communities as well as engaging international financial institutions, including United Nations agencies, for financial support to fund such small enterprises.

“The government’s stimulus plan must be more inclusive and not target big business only, but look at marginalised communities including cross-border traders, small-scale farmers and small formal and informal businesses,” Mkundu said.

Human rights defender Okay Machisa said it is important to note that Zimbabwe is the returnees’ motherland, hence the government must assist them.

“Our government shall treat these in the same manner that everyone has been treated without special treatment. It is, however, critical for the government to tap into the brains and skills of those returnees in order to develop our countries. Policies to integrate such skills and brains should be developed in order to make use of these brains and skills otherwise when opportunities arise, sometime post Covid-19, the same people will leave for greener pastures,” Machisa said.

Rights activist Jestina Mukoko said the returnees’ integration will be difficult to implement considering that Zimbabwe has thousands of informal traders who no longer have places to make an income after their stalls were demolished.

“The government needs to reconsider the situation of informal traders’ places of operation otherwise it is surely facing a difficult situation as more people will need to be included in social safety nets, which already have huge gaping holes.

“Personally, I would think that while there needs to be balance between economic activity and the response to the Covid-19, there was need for a slower easing of restrictions to see how the situation plays out considering that most companies will also not be able to screen their employees.

“The balancing act between resuming economic activity and screening employees will be a difficult one to maintain. I also think government needs to take responsibility to test citizens and not hand this over to employers most of who have no budgets for the exercise,” said Mukoko.
Celebrated writer Virginia Phiri said the returnees’ welfare issue is tricky, worrying and frightening.

“Of course returnees are returning to the only country they call home. It is unfortunate that the country does not have the capacity to handle such big numbers at the moment in terms of testing and appropriate quarantine space and what goes with it.

“It now needs business Angels to come to the rescue. I wish our artists were as rich as Rihanna and the rest who have made a difference in this pandemic. I have picked artists because it is my sector as well. Not to say local artists have not done anything; we have with the little that we have,” Phiri said.

Former MDC-T vice president Obert Gutu said Covid-19 is a new disease that has taken the entire globe by storm.
“The situation has been made dire mainly because our economy was already in dire straits even before Covid-19 hit us. With our own resources, it is virtually impossible for Zimbabwe to satisfactorily cope with the health and socio-economic challenges in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.

“We neither have got the necessary health facilities nor the financial resources to adequately combat the hazards of Covid-19,” said Gutu.

“Our quarantine facilities are over-stretched and under-equipped. The government does not have adequate financial resources to provide food and all other daily necessities for these returnees.

“In these circumstances, the call for the lifting of sanctions against Zimbabwe becomes salutary. Operating under the painful yoke of sanctions, the economy in Zimbabwe is screaming. What with the advent of the lethal coronavirus! It is like jumping from the frying pan into the fire!”

He said Zimbabwe needs urgent financial assistance and hence, sanctions must be immediately removed. “
On its part, the government must be more serious and determined in combating and crushing corruption. It doesn’t send out the correct signal at all to observe that corruption in Zimbabwe remains rampant and uncontrollable.”

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