The order has seen some of the refugees leave the large open makeshift living quarters, known as ‘€œThe Showground’€, which Government claimed had become infested with germs and disease.

The order was slammed by humanitarian groups as it comes at a time when masses of ill and starving Zimbabweans continue to enter the country daily crossing the Limpopo River and risking their lives in hope of a better life. The showground had been the only hope of acquiring food, shelter and basic health care for the refugees who now have nowhere else to go, Médecins Sans Frontières  (Doctors Without Borders) warned.

The decision has been condemned by Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), as an ill conceived decision that is going to put many Zimbabweans in the country at an even higher health risk.

The international medical humanitarian organisation had submitted a report to the home affairs department two weeks ago revealing the appalling humanitarian situation in Zimbabwe and called upon South Africa to intervene by providing adequate assistance to refugees that have fled Zimbabwe and not to deport them.

‘€œThis ill-conceived decision by South African authorities will place Zimbabweans seeking refuge in South Africa at incredible risk ‘€“ especially considering that many have serious illnesses, including HIV and tuberculosis, which cannot be properly attended to by the collapsed Zimbabwe health system,’€ said Rachel Cohen, MSF head of mission in South Africa.

‘€œPatients at our mobile clinic at the showground informed us that many people fled Musina yesterday morning, fearing they would be arrested or deported if they stayed,” Cohen said. “Our medical teams know from experience that the threat of deportation serves only to force Zimbabweans into hiding, as they are too afraid to come forward to receive the assistance they so desperately need.’€

South African authorities divided Zimbabweans seeking asylum at the showground into groups according to their legal status, gender and age on Tuesday morning, 3 March. Pregnant women and those who had children as well as unaccompanied minors were all removed from a special location they had occupied at the showground.

“People without asylum-seeking papers were separated into groups, their names were recorded, and families were split up in this process. Today, home affairs ordered all temporary shelters to be taken down and burnt before they would begin processing applications for approximately 1 700 people. Tonight no-one will have anywhere to sleep’€ said Sara Hjalmarsson, MSF Field Coordinator in Musina. ‘€œIn addition to this, there is no information on how newly arrived Zimbabweans will be able to apply for asylum. These already vulnerable people are even more traumatised by the uncertainty they now face.’€

The MSF has expressed shock at the sudden decision by the department since they had taken part in numerous talks with South African authorities, United Nations agencies and NGOs in Musina to find and acceptable solution in assisting the many refugees in the area. The organization again called upon the South African government to stop deportation and offer the necessary humanitarian assistance.

Home affairs spokesperson Siobhan McCarthy, confirmed that the department would be moving the Asylum Seekers Centre to another site in Musina and that the decision to close the show ground was motivated by the unhygienic conditions the refugees were living in.

‘€œThe decision to relocate the site was informed by the unhygienic conditions that have developed at the show grounds. Furthermore this was always meant to be a temporary site as the grounds are meant to be used for community events and activities.

She said the move was managed seamlessly without disrupting service provision.

‘€œThis week immigration officials are working hard to ensure that all asylum seekers currently waiting for services are processed before the anticipated move on Friday,’€ she said.

‘€œBy close of business yesterday 1160 people were processed, the remaining 668 are being processed today’€, said McCarthy.

She claimed that the department was working with other NGO’€™s to assist refugees with traveling to other parts of the country as well as those wishing to go back home. The Department of Social Development assisted by Save the Children has removed 105 children and 28 vulnerable children to a place of safety.

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