The Zimbabwean government deported about 70 refugees back to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) in violation of international humanitarian law, the United States Embassy in Harare said.
Officials rounded up 80 refugees who were alleged to have looted food rations from the Tongorara Refugee Camp’s warehouse and put them in a Harare prison. Ten were found not guilty and the rest were deported.
“In August (last year) the government removed approximately 80 refugees accused of looting a food supply warehouse from Tongogara Refugee Camp and placed them in detention in Harare.
“The government forcibly returned approximately 70 of these refugees to the DRC in violation of international law, according to an international organisation,” the US Embassy said in its recently released 2021 Human Rights Report on Zimbabwe.
Established in 1984, the Tongogara Refugee Camp, near Chipinge, has a capacity of 15 000 refugees. Many use it as a transit zone as they escape into South Africa.
The DRC rejected some of the alleged thieving refugees only for them to be returned to Zimbabwe and put in prisons.
“DRC authorities rejected approximately 15 of these, whom the government then placed in detention facilities in Harare,” the report stated.
Substance abuse rises in Zimbabwe amid pandemic
The pandemic has exacerbated a mental health crisis in Zimbabwe driven by substance abuse, say health professionals. Authorities and campaigners attribute it to loss of employment, prolonged school closures and anxiety resulting from COVID-19. (Feb. 17)
It was also noted in the report that despite a strict “encampment policy” that requires refugees to stay at the camp, some moved into the two major cities, Harare and Bulawayo.
“At year’s end, approximately 850 refugees lived in urban areas, including Harare and Bulawayo and more than 6 500 Mozambican asylum seekers lived among host communities along the porous border with Mozambique,” the report stated, adding that a substantive number of refugees were in Zimbabwean prisons.
Since legally, refugees in Zimbabwe should be in camps, employment opportunities in the outside world are non-existent. As such, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other partners provide camp residents employment opportunities, including banana farming, livestock production and soap production.
The report noted that many refugees were unwilling to return to their home countries voluntarily. Therefore, resettlement was the only viable solution.
However, Zimbabwe does not allow resettlement for refugees and pushes for their repatriation instead.
“While the government did not accept refugees from foreign countries for resettlement, it facilitated the voluntary repatriation of refugees to their home countries by recognising the Voluntary Repatriation Declaration Form as a valid document for travel purposes,” the report stated.
The report also highlighted that there was prolonged detention for undocumented migrants, who are often mistreated by other prisoners.