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Report Examines Zimbabwean Refugees In South Africa

According to a report released Tuesday by Medicins Sans Frontiers (MSF), “Zimbabweans continue to cross the border [into South Africa] every day, legally and illegally, in massive numbers as a matter of survival,” AFP/Google.com  reports (AFP/Google.com, 6/2). An estimated “three million Zimbabweans – about a quarter of the entire population” have fled “the economic collapse and human rights abuses at home, as well as a cholera outbreak that has infected about 100,000 people,” according to the BBC,  and the “inauguration in February of a fractious power-sharing government in Zimbabwe has not stemmed the flight” (BBC, 6/2).

The AP/Washington Post says the report indicates, “South Africa’s health system has been overwhelmed by an influx of Zimbabweans, and that South Africa was struggling to provide shelter and other services for Zimbabweans.” The report also documented that some refugees had been “raped by criminals at the border, harassed by South African police once they cross and denied medical care at South African hospitals,” the AP/Washington Post writes.

“It’s a major humanitarian crisis … here on this side of the border,” said Eric Goemaere, medical coordinator for MSF in South Africa (Bryson, AP/Washington Post, 6/2). MSF performs thousands of consultations monthly for Zimbabwean refugees in its centers, many of whom have HIV or TB, according to Goemaere (Ncube, Zimbabwe Times, 6/2).

The MSF report calls for the government of South Africa and U.N. agencies “to do more to ensure desperate migrants were safe and had shelter and health care” (AP/Washington Post, 6/2). “This should be paid for by the international community,” Goemaere said (SAPA/News24.com, 6/2).

The AP/Washington Post reports that South Africa has lifted visa restrictions for Zimbabwean refugees – which Nomvanela Kota, a spokeswoman for South Africa’s international relations department – said has made it easier for Zimbabweans to come and stay in South Africa and shows that the government has “long been seized of this matter.” Kota welcomed foreign help, “but as part of a ‘coordinated effort’ led by South Africa” (AP/Washington Post, 6/2).

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