A group of refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) have been detained in Zimbabwe after they were caught while heading to Botswana following their escape from the country’s main refugee camp.
The 104 refugees were found at a house in the south-western city of Bulawayo after travelling nearly 600 kilometres from Tongogara Refugee Camp near the Zimbabwe-Mozambique border.
Authorities are now investigating how the refugees managed to travel so far despite Zimbabwe banning inter-city travel over a month ago to slow down the spread of Covid-19.
Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare minister, Paul Mavhima, said the government was looking into the circumstances of their escape.
“Our position as a ministry is that they are supposed to be at the Tongogara Refugee Camp,” he said.
“For now, they have to be processed by the police and their case reviewed by Immigration authorities to see if there is any law that has been broken. If any law has been broken, then justice will take its course.”
Police spokesperson Paul Nyathi said they were still investigating the case.
“What is clear is that these are refugees from the DRC, who were coming the Tongogora Refugee Camp,” he said.
“Some of them have their papers and are currently going through Covid-19 screening processes and vetting by relevant government departments.”
Zimbabwe is a major transit route for African immigrants seeking refuge in more economically stable countries like South Africa and Botswana.
Last month, Zimbabwean police arrested 73 Malawians that were trying to cross into South Africa. At least 10 of the migrants tested positive for Covid-19.
The previous month, the International Organisation for Migration facilitated the return of 100 Malawians that were found stranded along Zimbabwe’s border with South Africa.
Tongogara, the main holding camp for asylum seekers in Zimbabwe, last year registered 236 new arrivals. Most of them were from the DRC (196), Mali (29), Burundi (7) and Cote d'Ivoire (2).
Rwanda and Somalia had one new arrival each at the camp that now has a total of 14,967 refugees, mostly from DRC, Burundi, Rwanda, Mozambique, Ethiopia, Eritrea and Somalia.