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South Africa take positive steps for Zimbabwe refugees
September 16, 2010

South Africa take positive steps for Zimbabwe refugees

(Johannesburg) September 14, 2010 – Jesuit Refugee Service has given a cautious welcome to the introduction of new regulations affecting Zimbabweans in South Africa.

The new regulations stipulate that Zimbabweans, present in the country before 31 May 2010, may be eligible for a four-year work, business or study permit, if they are in possession of a current Zimbabwean passport and meet other qualifying criteria. Although no exact date has been given, it is believed the new regulations will come into effect within the next two weeks.

The new procedures replace the Special Dispensation for Zimbabweans, introduced in April 2009. The dispensation allowed Zimbabweans crossing into South Africa the right to live, work, attend education facilities and access basic healthcare for a period of six months. This was in response to the socio-economic challenges in Zimbabwe, which resulted in large-scale cross-border movement, as vulnerable groups sought safety and alternative livelihood strategies in South Africa.

According to JRS, the move is a positive step, regulating and recognizing the contribution of Zimbabweans to the South African economy.

"JRS is pleased to see the South African government has recognized the necessity of providing assistance to vulnerable Zimbabweans, and welcomes efforts to tackle the complex issue of cross-border movement head-on, as opposed to ignoring the issue. We are also pleased to see cross-border cooperation from both the Zimbabwean and South African governments, as this promises a more effective and meaningful solution to migration flows between the two countries," said JRS Southern Africa Director, David Holdcroft S.J.

JRS also welcomed the prompt response by the Department of Home Affairs (DHA) to a number of concerns raised by the NGO community.

It is now clear that Zimbabweans can apply for a passport at the Zimbabwe Embassy in South Africa, and the cost of this application has been reduced to 50 US dollars. Zimbabwe has also relaxed the documentation requirements for passport application, to assist in facilitating this process. The DHA has also waived all application fees and deployed staff in 46 regional Home Affairs offices in all nine provinces across the country to process these applications.


However, many human rights organizations have raised concerns that the stipulations cater for those Zimbabweans who are already employed in South Africa – and those who are destitute and unemployed will not benefit from the new rules. The inevitability of deportations of Zimbabweans resuming in early 2011 remains a topic of concern to JRS.

While assistance to vulnerable populations is not at the heart of the DHA mandate, policies which do not cater for unemployed and destitute Zimbabweans inevitably complicate its operations. In the absence of other legal options for survival, many vulnerable Zimbabweans who lack clear evidence of the need for refugee protection will continue to apply for asylum en masse. This provides a continuous and large caseload for the DHA to work through – and the 'revolving door' of deportations might not stem the tide of those crossing the border.

However, JRS looks forward to continued information-sharing sessions with the DHA and other stakeholders, and particularly to hearing more about the cross-border implementation and monitoring committee. This committee could be very influential in managing and responding to concerns and issues raised by NGOs and other service providers working with vulnerable Zimbabweans, both on the border and in other parts of South Africa.

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Mr James Stapleton
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