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Zimbabwe: Food Assistance Gives Lifeline to Returnees

More than a million Zimbabweans are estimated to be living in South Africa, many of them without documentation. A special amnesty gave undocumented migrants a year to regularize their stay, and after the amnesty expired in late 2011, South Africa resumed deportation of those who failed to do so. Several thousand Zimbabweans are repatriated every month. At the Beitbridge border post, WFP has been providing them with hot meals to help sustain them through the journey home. 

BEITBRIDGE -- Ndakeni Mugambiwa has made the long journey from South Africa to his rural Zimbabwean home of Chivi several times before, but this time he has crossed the Limpopo River that separates the two neighbouring countries with nothing but an old work suit and plenty of questions.

Shrunk with uncertainty and defeat, the father of six relates his ordeal, which is similar to many other returnees.  While some Zimbabweans are returning home voluntarily, Ndakeni was sent home without warning, and had no time to prepare for the journey.

“My boss tipped the police off just before my pay day. I have not eaten a proper meal in four days,” he says.

The returnees are offered assistance when they reach the Beitbridge Reception and Support Centre run by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) at the border. They can receive temporary shelter, safe migration information, protection, medical assistance, and free transport to their respective homes – as well as something to eat. WFP is providing IOM with rice, pulses and vegetable oil to cook and serve hot meals for an average of 2,500 returnees every month at the Beitbridge centre.

“The food assistance they receive at the border is often the returnees’ only source of food. Most of them arrive with nothing and do not even have money to buy food along the way,” says Felix Bamezon, WFP’s Country Director in Zimbabwe.

IOM estimates that close to 1.5 million Zimbabwean migrants are living in South Africa, an unknown number of them undocumented. Only 275,000 had applied to be regularised by the October 2011 deadline. Since deportations resumed, 45,000 Zimbabwean migrants deported from South Africa have received assistance at the Beitbridge border post.

A similar programme assisting approximately 2,000 returnees is running at the Plumtree border post to assist returnees from Botswana.