Cablegate: Unhcr Moves Sag Forward On Assisting Zimbabwe


DE RUEHSA #1619/01 2061552
R 241552Z JUL 08




E.O. 12958: N/A




1. (SBU) Press statements by the United Nations High
Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) called attention to
Zimbabweans fleeing to South Africa in growing numbers, some
in whole family units and some with injuries from violence.
UNHCR renewed appeals to the SAG to suspend deportations,
give access to asylum seekers, provide registration
documents, and fulfill its duties of care to refugees. The
Department of Home Affairs (DHA) responded with several
positive steps, including creation of a refugee reception
center near the Zimbabwe border and measures to facilitate
asylum. UNHCR Regional Rep Sanda Kimbimbi appreciated U.S.
concern on these points but cautioned a demarche to the SAG
would likely backfire. End Summary.

Worrying Trends in Refugee Flows

2. Press statements by the UNHCR in Geneva and Pretoria on
July 11 called attention to growing numbers of Zimbabweans
fleeing to SA, and to changing patterns in those flows. On
July 16 Regional Representative Sanda Kimbimbi explained to
poloffs that UNHCR staff had monitored border posts as well
as illegal transit routes over the past several months of the
Zimbabwean electoral crisis. Refugee flows had lately risen
markedly, to 3,000-4,000 a week at a Johannesburg reception
center. Increasingly large groups were also gathering
informally without shelter or assistance at Musina, just
within the SA border. Alongside the usual flow of adult
males traveling alone seeking work, the profile now included
more families, injured victims of violence, and persons
seeking asylum. The new dynamic was one of movement from a
threat, rather than toward an opportunity. Kimbimbi said,
"People are now leaving Zimbabwe not by choice, but because
they are forced to -- some by violence and threats, others by
hardship and for their very survival."

--------------------------------------------- ---
UNHCR to SAG: Suspend Deportation, Assist Asylum
--------------------------------------------- ---

3. (SBU) In its July 11 statements and briefings to the SAG,
UNHCR reiterated longtime appeals to the Department of Home
Affairs (DHA) -- to suspend deportations, give greater access
to the asylum application process, and issue refugees with
official documents to avert detention. UNHCR sources
estimated SAG had deported 17,000 Zimbabweans in a 40-day
period, and suspending these returns during that country's
ongoing political crisis was UNHCR's top priority. (Note: on
the day of our meeting with UNHCR, Post received credible
reports that DHA officers continued to deport Zimbabweans in
significant numbers.) In private meetings with senior DHA
officials, UNHCR requested unfettered access to refugee
reception centers, to identify and assist asylum candidates.
Kimbimbi also warned DHA that its systems lacked capacity to
handle new high volumes, and he advised that border offices
were failing in their duty to screen deportees for asylum

4. (SBU) We summarized to Kimbimbi the Department's demarche
cable (ref A) echoing and endorsing UNHCR concerns. While
Kimbimbi and his colleague Yusuf Hassan thanked the USG for
its support, they felt the demarche would be
counterproductive in the current negative climate of SAG-USG
opposition over Zimbabwe in the Security Council. More
importantly, SAG had begun to take positive steps to heed
importantly, SAG had begun to take positive steps to heed
UNHCR's appeals, and Kimbimbi wanted to give these advances
time to show results.

DHA Responds: Five Steps Forward

5. Spurred by UNHCR field reports and a personal expression
of concern from the High Commissioner, high-level DHA
officials paid a flurry of visits to border areas on July 12
and 13, resulting in several significant commitments to
rectify treatment of Zimbabweans there:

-- On July 16 DHA opened a refugee reception office at Musina
(ten kilometers inside SA), sparing Zimbabweans the long
journey to Pretoria and relieving long queues in the capital.

-- DHA's deportation form has been modified to include an
advisory of the right to apply for asylum, with a check box
for aspiring migrants to indicate their wish to initiate an
application with DHA.

-- UNHCR will have full access to DHA centers, unannounced
and unescorted, to identify and assist asylum candidates.
This access will also extend to the two local NGOs who act as
UNHCR's implementing partners in SA.

-- Interviews of Zimbabweans by SAG intelligence agencies are
henceforth suspended.

-- To provide targeted attention to unaccompanied minors,
especially very vulnerable girls, a new committee was due to
meet on July 17 to coordinate responses by the Department of
Social Development, police, immigration, and UNHCR.

'Contingency Plan' Still in Progress

6. In case of a massive influx of Zimbabwean refugees, UNHCR
was pressing the SAG to get Contingency Plan preparations
(ref B) back on track. Promises made in April, for site
clearance by the Army and utilities installation by the
Department of Public Works, were unfulfilled. DHA and
National Disaster Management Center (NDMC) promised on July
11 to reenergize these efforts and to revisit the site with
UNHCR on July 23. Kimbimbi lamented that UNHCR's $ 10
million appeal for contingency preparations and supply stocks
had received negligible support from donors.

IDPs: Reintegration Imminent (With Risks)

7. Kimbimbi confirmed the SAG still planned to shut down by
mid-August its shelter sites for victims displaced by May's
xenophobic attacks. Acknowledging that a large-scale return
of foreigners to their former settlements could spark renewed
violence, he added, "Of course, we hope not... but the
question on reintegration is: what alternative is there?"
SAG's standing policy affirms free movement and favors
dispersion of new arrivals. Explicitly against camps, the
SAG dodged the notion in May until security considerations
compelled their creation, and it then found them problematic
to manage. Increasing flows from Zimbabwe, especially if
coupled with renewed tensions in townships, however, could
renew pressure on the SAG to respond more quickly and once
again resort to temporary shelter camps.


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