/ 29 August 2007

Temporary SA residence for Zim refugees?

The government needs to adopt a new approach to deal with Zimbabwean citizens flocking into South Africa, Home Affairs Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula said on Tuesday.

The South African Broadcasting Corporation reported her as saying one solution could be to provide them with temporary residence permits.

”What that means is that they can’t go back home until the political problems have been resolved,” she told reporters in Cape Town. ”And yet the people who come in here would like to get a job, get some money and provide for their families. A number of them go back on a monthly basis.”

Accused of being too soft on Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe by his critics, South Africa has received the largest number of people escaping food and fuel shortages in Zimbabwe.

Critics blame the economic crisis on the policies of Mugabe, who is also accused by Western countries of human rights abuses.

Mapisa-Nqakula said it is a waste of money to keep deporting people, as the majority of them return within a few days.

She reiterated that no refugee camps will be set up to deal with the influx.

Last week, Mavuso Msimang, Director General of Home Affairs, said in an interview: ”No decision has been taken to establish refugee camps, I don’t know that it would be taken in the future. If I had any say in that, I would argue strongly against the establishment of refugee camps on the border.”

President Thabo Mbeki has been mediating between Mugabe and his opponents, although Western diplomats doubt his diplomacy will succeed.

The flood of refugees from Zimbabwe has strained the economies of surrounding countries and, despite enjoying a boom, South Africa is also feeling the pressure.

The United Nations World Food Programme has said hundreds of thousands of Zimbabweans are starting to run out of food and made an urgent funding appeal to donor countries.

Without assistance, vulnerable families will be forced to resort to eating potentially poisonous wild foods, selling their remaining household assets and exchanging sex for food and other desperate measures to survive, it said. — Reuters, Sapa