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Last Updated: Saturday, 26 August 2006, 17:46 GMT 18:46 UK
Border region struggles with influx
Peter Biles,
BBC News, South Africa

The deserted road that runs parallel to the Limpopo offers a fine view of the river once described by Rudyard Kipling as "great, grey-green and greasy".

Border fence with view of Limpopo
The fortified fence fails to deter those desperate to flee
The crocodile-infested Limpopo forms a natural barrier between South Africa and Zimbabwe, but the illegal migrants who try to cross the border on a daily basis, also face a man-made barrier.

A triple line of fencing and barbed wire is meant to prevent the influx of Zimbabweans into South Africa.

Heading eastwards, close to the Beitbridge border post, I see two young men scurrying across the road.

When they hear my car approaching, they disappear into the bush. But a third man, trailing behind his friends, is still trying to find a way through the fortified fence.

As I drive past, he quickly turns back down the slope towards the river bank to avoid being seen.

map

Thousands of Zimbabweans, including women and children, are now risking the perilous border crossing in a desperate bid to flee a country that has descended into political and economic chaos over the past six years.

"The border fence is no deterrent", says Annette Kennealy who speaks for the farmers' union in Limpopo Province.

"These Zimbabweans are hungry, destitute and driven to crime. We find a lot of them staying on local farms temporarily, but others move southwards, trying to reach the big cities; Johannesburg and Pretoria".

'Rights abuses'

Every Thursday, a train pulls into the station at Musina, South Africa's most northerly town. Several hundred illegal Zimbabwean migrants who have been arrested, and held at a detention centre near Johannesburg, are being deported from South Africa.

Under police escort in Musina, they wait in groups on the station platform, before being crammed into police trucks and driven to the border.

In Zimbabwe, we're dying of hunger. I used to drive taxis, but now there are no jobs and no money there
Enoch Mafuso

A recent report by Human Rights Watch claimed that migrants from Zimbabwe were vulnerable to human rights abuses in South Africa. It further alleged that police and immigration officials had violated the lawful procedures for arrest, detention and deportation.

However, Inspector Jacques du Buisson of the South African Police Service (SAPS) denies that police have maltreated Zimbabwean migrants:

"If they're arrested around here, they're brought to the police station in Musina, where they receive food and medical treatment if that's required.

"Then, on the same day, they'll be deported. We've never mishandled any illegal foreigner"

Support centre

According to new figures released by the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the South African authorities have deported nearly 31,000 Zimbabweans since the beginning of June.

This would seem to represent a sharp increase in the number of deportations.

Annette Kennealy
Annette Kennealy says the problem is escalating

In response, the IOM, in collaboration with the Zimbabwean government, has opened a reception and support centre at Beitbridge, on the Zimbabwean side of the border.

This provides humanitarian assistance for the deportees on their return to Zimbabwe.

"We're counting 100,000 people a year in need of immediate help, on their arrival back in Zimbabwe", says Hans-Petter Boe, the IOM's Regional Representative.

The problem is that while some of the illegal migrants may go back to their homes in Zimbabwe, many make repeated efforts to re-enter South Africa in the hope of finding work.

Zimbabwe's economic collapse, with inflation in excess of 1,100% per annum, has led to increasing hardship.

Political will

Musina is a South African frontier town, but Zimbabwean rhythms fill the air at the main taxi rank and traders can be seen carrying bundles of near worthless Zimbabwean bank notes.

Taxi rank in Musina
Musina's taxi rank is full of Zimbabweans

Enoch Mafuso, 21, who entered South Africa legally last month, describes his predicament:

"In Zimbabwe, we're dying of hunger. I used to drive taxis, but now there are no jobs and no money there. I want to stay here in South Africa, but it is very difficult to get a job".

No-one is sure how many Zimbabweans are in South Africa, but the estimates range between two and three million.

With no end in sight to Zimbabwe's woes, Ms Kennealy of the local farmers' union warns of an impending crisis in South Africa:

"We're on the frontline here in Limpopo Province. People living further south don't realise what we're facing.

"If our government had the political will, they would patrol the borders, introduce more regulations and stop these people from coming in. This problem is escalating and the long term effects for the rest of South Africa are going to be enormous."




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