For Immediate Release:
June 25, 2008
Vanessa Parra, +1-202-828-0110 ext. 225;
Refugees International Calls on African Nations to Protect Zimbabweans Fleeing Violence
Washington, D.C. – Zimbabweans fleeing political violence should receive protection in neighboring countries until they can return safely, Refugees International said today.
"African human rights conventions provide for protection of people fleeing persecution and violence, yet several of Zimbabwe’s neighbors refuse to give refuge to Zimbabweans," said Ken Bacon, president of Refugees International. "At the very least, neighboring states should give Temporary Protected Status to Zimbabweans fleeing their country now until the current violence subsides."
Refugees International is calling on the member states of the African Union to invoke the 1969 Organization of African Unity Refugee Convention to grant legal status to Zimbabweans. The convention clearly states: "The term ‘refugee’ shall also apply to every person who, owing to … events seriously disturbing public order in either part or the whole of his country of origin or nationality, is compelled to leave his place of habitual residence in order to seek refuge in another place outside his country of origin or nationality." At a minimum, African nations should provide Temporary Protected Status to all Zimbabweans, which would temporarily grant Zimbabweans permission to live in the country legally until it is safe for them to return.
"The international community has shown its deep concern for the people inside Zimbabwe in past weeks. However, that concern has been confined to those who are living inside the country," Mr. Bacon continued. "The international community and Zimbabwe’s neighbors must ensure that Zimbabweans who flee the ongoing violence receive the legal protection and guarantees of safety that international law provides them."
In advance of elections scheduled for June 27, a widespread, government-sponsored campaign of violence, intimidation, and fear has been led against the people of Zimbabwe. The United Nations Security Council has condemned the violence and stated that under such circumstances a fair election will not be possible. Over 80 people have been killed, thousands have been injured, and countless more are living in fear of violence because of their political beliefs.
Refugees International also called on the governments of South Africa and Botswana to immediately suspend all deportations of undocumented Zimbabweans. Currently, South Africa and Botswana consider Zimbabweans undocumented migrants, and require individual refugee status determination. Both nations should join a region-wide commitment to providing all Zimbabweans Temporary Protected Status.
"Whether Zimbabweans have fled election-related violence this week, or sought safety and survival over the last few years, forced repatriation to Zimbabwe in the current climate could endanger the safety of all Zimbabweans living abroad," explained Mr. Bacon. "The continuing climate of fear in South Africa for migrants only reinforces the need for South Africa to grant legal protections to Zimbabweans, to legitimize their presence in the face of an increasingly xenophobic domestic population, and to provide practical solutions for their safety."
Prior to the dramatic increase in election-related violence in Zimbabwe, a steady flow of economic and political migrants -- estimated between one and three million -- had already fled their country, and are currently residing throughout the region. Despite the long-term nature of the political crisis in Zimbabwe, these migrants have never been recognized as refugees or victims of political persecution. While Zimbabweans have the ability to apply for refugee status in major host countries such as South Africa, the lack of screening infrastructure has often delayed refugee claims for years. Recent violence and attacks against migrants in South Africa has increased the need for legal protections for Zimbabweans, who bore the brunt of the attacks in the spring of 2008.
Refugees International is a Washington, DC-based organization that advocates to end refugee crises. In October 2007, a Refugees International team visited South Africa, Botswana, and Zambia to examine conditions for Zimbabwean refugees. For more information, go to www.refugeesinternational.org