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Cablegate: No Sag Contingency Planning for Growing Influx Of

VZCZCXRO5941
RR RUEHBZ RUEHDU RUEHJO RUEHMR RUEHRN
DE RUEHSA #2646/01 2111350
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 301350Z JUL 07
FM AMEMBASSY PRETORIA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 0992
INFO RUCNSAD/SOUTHERN AF DEVELOPMENT COMMUNITY COLLECTIVE
RUEHLO/AMEMBASSY LONDON 1249
RUEHTN/AMCONSUL CAPE TOWN 4643
RUEHDU/AMCONSUL DURBAN 9030
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHINGTON DC
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHINGTON DC
RHMFISS/HQ USEUCOM VAIHINGEN GE
RUEKJCS/JOINT STAFF WASHDC

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 PRETORIA 002646

SIPDIS

SIPDIS
SENSITIVE

DEPT FOR PRM/AFR M. LANGE, AF/S R. MARBURG, S. HILL
DEPT PLEASE PASS TO USAID/DCHA

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PREL PREF ZI SF
SUBJECT: NO SAG CONTINGENCY PLANNING FOR GROWING INFLUX OF
ZIMBABWEANS

REF: HARARE 157

PRETORIA 00002646 001.2 OF 003


This Cable is Sensitive but Unclassified. Not for Internet
Distribution.

1. (SBU) SUMMARY. Despite the growing influx of Zimbabweans
into South Africa, the SAG has not initiated contingency
planning for a refugee crisis, according to UNHCR and IOM
officials. The majority of Zimbabweans entering South Africa
are "victims of bad political governance," UNHCR argued, not
technically "refugees" under the U.N. Refugee Convention, nor
traditional economic migrants. UNHCR is concerned about the
protection of vulnerable groups, especially children,
crossing the border. Post recommends that PRM send a
representative to South Africa to continue discussions on the
situation and to consider possible avenues for U.S.
engagement and assistance. END SUMMARY.

--------------------------------------
Flow of Zimbabwean Refugees Increasing
--------------------------------------

2. (SBU) Numerous press and anecdotal reports suggest that
the number of Zimbabweans crossing into South Africa both
legally and illegally has increased significantly in recent
weeks, likely in response to the deteriorating economic
situation in Zimbabwe. Journalist Geoff Hill told PolOff
July 23 that during a recent border visit, the South African
Police Service (SAPS) told him that 3,000 Zimbabweans a day
were crossing the border illegally into South Africa, what
one official called a human "tsunami." South African farmers
in Limpopo have complained to the South African Government
(SAG) about the increase in illegal border crossings. The
SAG has refused to estimate the scale, but has admitted
publicly that the number of Zimbabweans crossing the border
is increasing.

3. (U) Parliamentarians from the African National Congress
(ANC) and opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) have visited
the Zimbabwe border in recent weeks. DA Spokesman Mike Lowe
said that 5,000-6,000 Zimbabweans per day are entering South
Africa legally at Beitbridge (with more than half of those
not returning to Zimbabwe). Lowe claimed that an even larger
number are crossing illegally, upwards of 1,000 on one farm
alone. The DA has called for the establishment of refugee
camps to house Zimbabweans.

4. (SBU) The recent arrivals join a large Zimbabwean exile
community in South Africa. Estimates of the number of
Zimbabweans living in South Africa vary widely from one to
three million. DepForMin Aziz Pahad said publicly July 5
that the number "continues to increase," noting the estimate
of three million. Abel Mbilinyi, Deputy Representative of
the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugee (UNHCR) told PolOffs
and USAID/OFDA Officer that he believes the 3 million figure
is exaggerated, but observed that since most Zimbabweans are
in the country illegally, accurate estimates are nearly
impossible.

---------------------------
Little Contingency Planning
---------------------------

5. (SBU) The South African Government (SAG) has undertaken
little contingency planning to deal with a possible
Zimbabwean refugee/migration crisis, according to UNHCR's
Mbilinyi and IOM Regional Representative Hans-Petter Boe.
Mbilinyi and Boe noted that the SAG had developed contingency
plans in 2001, including identifying a reception center at a
former military base 60 kilometers from the Zimbabwe border,
but that these plans were never put into action because the
tripwires (50 people/day requesting asylum) were never
triggered.

6. (SBU) Approximately two months ago, the Provincial
Government of Limpopo, the province that borders Zimbabwe,
invited UNHCR and IOM to a planning meeting on a possible
Zimbabwean refugee/migration crisis. The provincial meeting
was preliminary and did not address concrete planning issues.

PRETORIA 00002646 002.2 OF 003


The province invited the national Department of Home Affairs
(DHA) to the meeting, but DHA representatives did not show
up, according to IOM's Boe. To date, the national government
has not included UNHCR or IOM in formal planning meetings (if
any have been held).

----------------------
Refugee Versus Migrant
----------------------

7. (U) UNHCR's Mbilinyi commented that Zimbabweans do not
fall into neat categories - refugee versus migrant, political
versus economic. The majority of Zimbabweans are "victims of
bad governance," not technically refugees under the U.N.
Refugee Convention. Even those who might have strong asylum
claims often do not articulate their cases, instead telling
SAG officials they came to South Africa for a job or food.
In addition, Mbilinyi commented that the "pull" factor from
South Africa remains strong and will only increase in the
coming years as the South African economy, particularly the
construction industry, expands. Zimbabwean workers tend to
be valued because of their relatively high skill levels and
English language capabilities.

8. (U) Approximately 25,000 Zimbabweans have applied for
asylum in South Africa since 2000, Mbilinyi said. Only a
small number of those cases have been adjudicated by the
South African Government, and a very small number granted
asylum. Asylum applicants have the legal right to work and
study in South Africa while there claim is pending.

-------------------
Protection Problem
-------------------

9. (SBU) UNHCR's Mbilinyi noted several concerns about the
protection of Zimbabweans crossing into South Africa:

-- South African law prohibits the deportation of children,
yet UNHCR believes that child deportations from South Africa
to Zimbabwe continue, especially by military and SAPS
officials in Limpopo. (NOTE: IOM's Beitbridge Reception
Centre received 1,785 unaccompanied children between January
and June 2007. END NOTE.)

-- Criminals are exploiting Zimbabweans crossing the border,
sometimes promising them safe passage in return for payment,
but then dumping them at the border.

-- Family reunification remains a major problem, Mbilinyi
said. Zimbabwean parents who live in South Africa illegally
pay "facilitators" to bring their children from Zimbabwe to
South Africa. Some of these facilitators abuse children or
abandon them when confronted by border officials.

IOM has opened a Repatriation Centre in Beitbridge to address
some of these issues (reftel) and is looking at opening a
center on the South African side of the border in Musina, as
well as in Plumtree, Zimbabwe, on the Botswanan border.
UNHCR is training SAPS officers, the military, and Department
of Home Affairs officials on protection issues.

------------------
Possible Solutions
------------------

10. (SBU) Mbilinyi and Boe outlined several possible
solutions to the Zimbabwe refugee/migration challenge:

-- Better planning: Both agreed that the SAG needs to step
up contingency planning for a possible Zimbabwean
migrant/refugee crisis. UNHCR hopes any contingency planning
will look to the future and establish effective assistance
structures, not just mechanisms to "warehouse" Zimbabweans
and send them back to Zimbabwe. IOM is considering
undertaking its own planning exercise for a possible
Zimbabwean influx.

-- Short-term visas: Mbilinyi suggested that the SAG should

PRETORIA 00002646 003.2 OF 003


consider creating a short-term visa program for Zimbabweans
who want to cross into South Africa for a limited amount of
time, or perhaps even waiving visas for Zimbabweans who cross
and return the same day. Such a program for Mozambicans has
dramatically reduced the number of illegal crossings from
Mozambique.

-- Work visas: South African and Zimbabwean officials have
discussed initiating a program to allow Zimbabweans to work
in South Africa legally for a fixed amount of time. This
would build on a small seasonal work permit program for
farmworkers in Limpopo.

----------------
Action Request
----------------

11. (SBU) Post requests that PRM consider sending an official
to South Africa (and possibly other affected countries) to
continue discussions with Post, IOM, UNHCR, NGOs, and the
South African Government on this evolving situation, and to
explore possible avenues for U.S. assistance. We are
concerned that the deteriorating economic and political
situation in Zimbabwe, particularly with elections looming in
March 2008, will lead to an even greater influx of
Zimbabweans into South Africa and a significant humanitarian
crisis.
Bost

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