Several southern African countries are deporting hundreds of illegal Zimbabwean immigrants in the middle of the coronavirus outbreak, putting a strain on a country already struggling under the weight of a collapsing health delivery system and weak economy.
So far Botswana, South Africa, Zambia and Namibia have sent packing hundreds of Zimbabweans in what many believe is necessitated by measure to contain the spread of the coronavirus.
Botswana alone has deported over 500 illegal immigrants from Zimbabwe in the past fortnight and indications are that hundreds are on their way home, authorities have revealed.
But Zimbabwe’s Health and Child Care minister Obadiah Moyo has said his country is buckling under the sudden influx. South Africa started the deportations poon after the country imposed a lockdown on March 27.
“We have suddenly seen a large influx of returning residents through our Beitbridge border post,” Dr Moyo said.
“For instance we were advised that initially there was a group of 500 nationals who came from South Africa, having been returned by the South African government.
“That group we have recommended that they be put under self-quarantine at controllable venues.” An official in Plumtree, a town on Zimbabwe’s border with Botswana, said they continued to receive Zimbabweans deported by Gaborone.
The deportees were being housed at an isolation centre in the town before they are allowed to go their homes to prevent the spread of coronavirus.
“We received 87 deportees on Tuesday who came from Botswana in two batches and they have been placed under quarantine,” said Fanisani Dube, the Plumtree council chairman.
“So far none of them are showing any symptoms of the virus and they were screened as they came into the centre.”
Numbers of deportees, however, kept swelling until the government moved 400 of them this week to the second city of Bulawayo following concerns about overcrowding at the isolation centre near the border.
In Bulawayo Provincial Affairs minister Judith Ncube said the authorities were already overwhelmed as they did not have enough resources to look after the deportees for at least 14 days.
Ms Ncube appealed for donations in the form of food and blankets for the deportees.
“It is now our turn to reciprocate and help in taking care of them while they are on quarantine before going home to their families.”
The deportees would be housed at government colleges around the city where they would also undergo testing for coronavirus also known as Covid-19.
Batirai Mukonoweshuro, Zimbabwe’s ambassador to Botswana said more of his countrymen who were in that country illegally were handing themselves over to the authorities so that they could be deported.
Mr Mukonoweshuro said Zimbabwe should expect to receive another 500 deportees in the coming few days, with at least 230 arriving in Plumtree Thursday.
He said most Zimbabweans surrendering themselves to the police were illegal immigrants who were running out of food because of Botswana’s state of emergency.
The flood of Zimbabwean economic refugees being pushed out of neighbouring countries is set to stretch the government’s resources as the country was already mired in an ever worsening economic crisis.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government has been struggling to put a coherent response to the pandemic. The country has recorded 23 cases and three deaths as of Thursday.
The country’s Health sector is grossly underfunded and the government is struggling to provide safety nets for the vulnerable during the 21-day lockdown that began on March 30.
Deportees being held under quarantine in Bulawayo depend on hand-outs from well-wishers, the authorities said.
“As we can all see the situation in the country, there is need, in terms of food, toiletries and clothing,” said Ms Ncube as she appealed for donations.
Martin Ncube, who said he was deported just before Botswana declared a state of emergency on April 2, said employers who wanted to avoid paying wages were reporting them to authorities so that they could be sent back home.
The father of four, said his employer owed him two months wages and reported him to the police after an argument over the outstanding payment.
“I am a victim, but as soon as this problem is over I am going back because if I stay in Zimbabwe my family will starve.”