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Cablegate: Zimbabwean Exodus Strains Sag Border Resources

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1. On December 5-6, U.S. and U.K poloffs together with
senior CDC and DFID officers traveled to Musina, near the
Zimbabwe border. The trip aimed to take stock of growing
migrant flows, observe the SAG's capacity to process and
protect vulnerable migrants, and assess SAG efforts to
contain a recent outbreak of cholera. High volumes of asylum
applicants have forced the SAG's new reception center to
relocate to a showground, where thousands of transients wait
their turn in a field without shelter, security, food, or
sufficient sanitation. Many are scammed, attacked, robbed,
and/or raped en route to Musina, and once in town they risk
arrest and deportation. Municipal authorities are slow to
respond to NGO appeals -- wary that any support could draw
more migrants -- while the hospital's CEO refused us entry
and has rebuffed foreign assistance. It was widely hoped
that the Minister of Health's December 9 visit would enable
international health workers' support on cholera, and perhaps
even break down municipal resistance on migrant protection.
End Summary.

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Concerns: Migration, Protection, and Health

2. On December 5-6 poloffs and Center for Disease Control
(CDC) officers traveled to Musina, about 10 kilometers from
the border with Zimbabwe, in a joint visit with counterparts
from the UK High Commission and its Department For
International Development (DFID). Four months after our
previous trip (ref A), this follow-up visit aimed to
understand growing volumes and changing characteristics of
migration flows; to observe humanitarian needs and protection
assistance provided by the SAG, IOs, and NGOs, particularly
to women and children; and to assess urgent health measures
undertaken in response to the recent influx of cholera (ref
B) from Zimbabwe. Human Rights Watch had privately warned of
deteriorating conditions in border areas, and encouraged the
international community to advocate for a more vigorous SAG
response. In Musina we met with multilaterals IOM, UNHCR, SA
Red Cross, and OCHA; with aid groups Save the Children (SC)
and Medicins Sans Frontieres (MSF); and with SAG officers of
the Department of Home Affairs (DHA) and the South African
Police Service (SAPS).

More Migrants, and Needier

3. Migrant flows continue to grow, and lately to accumulate
in Musina as the SAG struggles to process them. In July, we
observed manageable queues outside DHA's new center, and
Musina had the normal border town feel of flow-through
traffic. Now Musina's streets and parks are noticeably more
crowded. To afford space to daily queues of about 1,800
applicants, DHA has moved into mobile trailers at local
showgrounds, where we saw hundreds of men sitting in stadium
bleachers under a blazing sun hoping to be listed for the
next day's processing. (Women and children are put at the
head of the queue.) DHA's six data-entry officers and four
asylum interviewers can issue only 300 temporary permits a
day and render 50 asylum verdicts. The mounting backlog has
spawned a population of transients awaiting papers.

4. The latest arrivals are reportedly less able-bodied and
more destitute than in July. Whereas the longstanding norm
Qmore destitute than in July. Whereas the longstanding norm
had been for single male breadwinners to come to South
Africa, register at Musina, and proceed to Johannesburg to
earn money to remit home, this year entire families began to
arrive to join the men. Now, desperation in Zimbabwe is such
that single women, pregnant women, old persons, and even the
disabled and blind are crossing the border. Groups of
unaccompanied minors as young as eight years old roam the
town together. IOM says they resist the idea of being
returned home, saying they do not want to go back to hunger.
Many of the recent migrants lack the money for transport to
Johannesburg, so those too weak to walk there are stranded in
Musina. Others are required to wait in town for an asylum

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interview. A shantytown is reported to have sprung up on the
outskirts of Musina.

5. Hundreds of migrants sleep unsheltered in the showground
field, vulnerable to heat exposure and heavy summer rains,
with cardboard for mattresses, while others crawl under
stadium benches. Many are only a few feet from covered
stalls used to house livestock during fairs, but the stalls
are fenced off and the municipality has denied access.
Sanitation facilities are limited to six portable latrines
(all full and tipped over when we visited) and two taps for
washing. One daily meal is provided by IOM and church
volunteers to the 300 in DHA's daily selected queue, while
those outside in the field fend for themselves. MSF had
medical tents providing daytime basic care.

Gauntlet of Predators and Police

6. Migrants in transit are vulnerable to numerous risks and
predations. Nearly all lack identity documents to exit
Zimbabwe's formal border post, so they commonly swim across
the Limpopo River. Some have drowned or lost children swept
away in the current, and the river has now tested positive
for cholera. There are frequent and often horrific accounts
of scams, robberies, attacks, and gang rape. Each stage of
the journey has its own profiteers, from smugglers paid for
transport, to scalpers of queue slots, to gophers running
errands for those in line, to hoarding food supplies to sell
at inflated prices. Women are reportedly trading sexual
favors for these costs at alarming rates. Cops collect
bribes. Kids are recruited to steal and commit crimes. Lone
children are highly vulnerable to traffickers ostensibly
offering help.

7. The police continue to arrest and deport unregistered
foreigners, reportedly at a rate of 800-1,200 a day. SAPS
have agreed to declare the showground as off limits for
arrests, but the safe haven is limited to a 200-meter radius.
Two sources pointed out a gas station around the corner from
the showground, where they said police cars wait to nab any
undocumented Zimbabweans buying food from stores. IOM has
strongly protested the arrests of asylum seekers, which
contravenes international protocols. Dodging police drives
migrants off main routes and into alleys, increasing their
vulnerability to crime, for which they cannot seek police
assistance for fear of detention. Police action may
potentially increase the risk of cholera's spread, if
migrants disperse to avoid arrest.

8. Conditions are abysmal at the SAG's deportation center,
jointly run by DHA (for policy and case determinations) and
SAPS (for implementation of returns). The one-room shed,
divided in halves for men and women, is built of concrete
block and metal roofing with no inside plumbing. Detainees
may request toilet visits by day, but at night they must use
a corner of the room as a toilet and clean their own waste
the next day. The site reeks of urine in the summertime heat
and is ideally suited for cholera transmission. DHA agrees
the site is unfit and is building a replacement. Meanwhile,
IOM says DHA has ceased meeting its duty to visit detainees
to weed out wrongful arrests of permit holders, but SAPS were
responsive to IOM requests to investigate such cases. (Note:
Some deportees are said to be border traders, who come to
Musina to shop for supplies and then use deportation for
QMusina to shop for supplies and then use deportation for
return transport -- but conditions at the center make that
claim hard to credit.)

NGOs Scramble; Locals Endure

9. NGOs and church organizations are trying to assist the
most vulnerable migrants, but with very limited resources.
Shelter for unaccompanied children is constrained by a
requirement that creches be registered with Social
Development, a slow process. SC has received DFID funding
for a facility for 100 kids, but permits have been pending
for a year. There is currently only center for children, run
by the United Reform Church. The latter is adding an
overnight shelter for boys (only) on the assumption that
girls can more easily assimilate into private homes. The
next closest place of safety is 100 miles away, and like all
centers in the province it is full. The Catholic Church, and
other faith based groups, has been distributing food and is

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investigating provision of shelter. For its part, IOM has
proposed a Migrant Support Center, a daytime drop-in facility
providing food, clean water, showers, and health care, which
could help to coordinate all NGOs' activities. IOM has also
requested anti-trafficking support from its Pretoria head

10. Townspeople in Musina continue to show restraint and
sympathy for the migrants, despite growing frustrations.
Crime is rising, but Zimbabweans are more often victims than
perpetrators. There have been no xenophobic attacks or
generalized violence against the migrants. Police attribute
this to family, clan, cultural, and business ties across the
border, and the fact that many Musina residents are former
immigrants. Zimbabwe-plated pickup trucks overloaded with
merchandise suggest Musina's retail economy is booming from
the crisis next door; yet local consumers also complain about
price inflation. Some have grumbled over the loss of the
showground, normally used for community recreation and
festivities, and locals won a ban on migrants' cooking fires
in this dry and windy setting. Media reports of Zimbabweans
as cholera carriers (neglecting to mention that transmission
is now local) have fed resentment, yet many farmers have
opened their homes to children, and local church charities
are feeding migrants. UNHCR said local businesses had
offered to pay for weekend meals at the showgrounds, where
food was given out only on weekdays.

Municipality in Denial; Hospital on Defensive

11. Musina municipality seems to have little awareness of
the growing humanitarian needs of the migrant population, and
little sense of urgency about easing the pressures on local
resources. With a local population of only 40,000, municipal
plans and budgets make no provision for an influx of tens of
thousands of homeless Zimbabweans. City officials failed to
attend the latest weekly interagency meeting to address the
situation of migrants. Declaring an emergency (for which the
threshold is believed to be 10,000 distressed persons, and
for which Disaster Management reportedly has a ready plan)
would invoke national support. Instead, says SC, officials
shrug and say of the migrants, "They'll move on." NGOs
suggest the city is wary of providing support lest it become
a magnet for more migrants (ignoring that the exodus is now
driven more by push factors in Zimbabwe than pull factors in
South Africa). There is high sensitivity to any assistance
(like tents) that suggests permanent camps, counter to the
national non-encampment policy. UNHCR says they "battled"
for the latrines at the showgrounds.

12. The municipal hospital is on the defensive, coping with
its first cholera crisis yet incensed by MSF critiques and
resentful of international appeals for intervention. Its CEO
denied entry to our CDC and DFID officers, on grounds that
the WHO had been designated as a lead international agency
and hence had exclusive access. Hospital gates were closed,
but through the fence we could see that not all nurses were
gloved, and the one faucet apparently serving all patients
and staff could easily be contaminated. For its vocal
criticisms of the cholera clinic's procedures, MSF had been
ejected from the premises despite having the most medical
assets, South African doctors, and cholera specialists
Qassets, South African doctors, and cholera specialists
available in Musina. The hospital had reportedly rejected
the use of cholera beds as "dehumanizing." U.N. agencies
said the hospital curtly rebuffed their offers of assistance
as unwanted charity: "We are not beggars." Most observers
felt the CEO was feeling pressure over a pending visit from
the Health Minister, likely to surface problems in Musina's
response to the cholera outbreak.

Next Step: Will Minister Clear Hurdles?

13. The December 9 visit of the dynamic new Minister of
Health, Barbara Hogan, is the hoped-for key to more effective
responses to both cholera and humanitarian concerns at
Musina. Committees at provincial level have been tasked to
draft 'matrix' action plans for discussion during the visit.
At a minimum, IOs and NGOs anticipate that Hogan's
intervention may unblock international assistance to the
hospital. More broadly, it could energize the municipality
to lead its interagency cluster in improving protection for
migrants -- adding DHA officers to eliminate backlogs,

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fast-tracking registration of women's shelters and children's
creches, approving a site for an IOM drop-in center, invoking
'emergency' rules to summon national SAG resources, and
halting arrests of migrants awaiting processing. While we
await the results of the Minister's visit, post is conferring
internally and with external counterparts in Pretoria
(including CDC, OFDA, DFID, UNHCR, and IOM), to be ready to
respond with assistance and/or advocacy.

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