February 17, 2003

Tensions between Botswana and Zimabwean immigrants rise

More than 1.600 Zimbabweans are deported from Botswana every month, as thousands continue to attempt to escape from the harsh economic climate back home. Roy Sekgororwane, Botswana's acting chief immigration officer, said that Botswana was failing to cope with the massive flow of illegal immigrants from its north-eastern neighbour. "We are now repatriating two truckloads of illegal immigrants from Zimbabwe every day. Our detention centres are full to capacity, but a large number of people are never caught," he said. Botswana and South Africa have become the favourite destinations for Zimbabweans fleeing food shortages, unemployment, political instability and economic hardships. South Africa regularly repatriates illegal immigrants to Zimbabwe. In both countries, most Zimbabweans seek work as domestic servants or farm labourers.

Sekgororwane said most of the immigrants were from Matabeleland, the hardest hit by the famine affecting about half the country's 14,5 million people. "We are seriously losing the battle in dealing with this problem. This is the worst immigration problem we have ever seen in this country," Sekgororwane said. According to a recent report by the Botswana Immigration Department, about 125 000 Zimbabweans enter the country legally every week, but Sekgororwane said more stayed behind after the expiry of their visitor's permits. "We repatriate two truckloads of illegal immigrants from Zimbabwe every day, and this costs the government a lot of money," he said. Sekgororwane however, admitted that the exercise was not a long-term solution to the problem. "To some of the Zimbabweans, it is like a joke. They just drop their things upon repatriation and come back to Botswana," Sekgororwane said.

Meanwhile, it was reported that the relations between Botswana and Zimbabwean immigrants worsen, following the death of two Zimbabwean inmates and a Motswana at Nyangabgwe Referral Hospital in mid January. The three died from injuries they sustained in a fight between Zimbabweans and Batswana at the Francistown Maximum Prison. Prison warders failed to control the fighting and police and army personnel had to be called in. Although the police is yet to conclude investigations into what led to the fighting, it is an open secret that relations between Zimbabweans and Batswana is deteriorating at an alarming rate.

In another incident, three Zimbabweans were seriously injured at the Gaborone Bus Rank when fighting broke out on January 20 between the two groups. Again, police are still investigating the cause of the fighting but some reports claim that a Zimbabwean was caught wearing clothes stolen from a Motswana. The Batswana have openly accused Zimbabweans of stealing. And of late, they have also accused the Zimbabweans of spreading the highly contagious foot and mouth disease. It is claimed that the immigrants, who use illegal entry points, escape the thorough check-points that have been erected along the Botswana's highways, where travellers have to disinfect leather products. But the Zimbabweans claim that their Batswana neighbours, including police officers, harass them and do not accord them justice. (The Daily News, Harare; African Church Information Service)

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