Undocumented African immigrants are smuggling their dead relatives out of South Africa using neighbouring Zimbabwe’s porous borders at a time the region is battling a resurgent Covid-19 pandemic, it has emerged.
According to the International Organisation for Immigration (IOM), a recent investigation revealed that there were 22 illegal points of entry along the 200-kilometre border between Zimbabwe and South Africa.
These points have become havens for illicit activities, including human trafficking and smuggling of bodies to other African countries, the IOM says in its findings. IOM's mapping exercise was carried around Beitbridge, which has one of southern African's busiest border ports for both human traffic and cargo.
Beitbridge is the gateway to many southern and east African countries that include Zimbabwe, Malawi, Mozambique, Democratic Republic of Congo, Zambia and Tanzania.
IOM said its mapping exercise revealed that African migrants intending to seek asylum in South Africa used unofficial entry points along the Zimbabwe border. The smuggling of bodies out of South Africa was flagged as a major cause for concern given the rising threat of Covid-19 in the region.
"There are high chances that the activities at the informal ports of entry and nearby congregation areas may increase the cross border Covid-19 infections between Zimbabwe and South Africa," IOM said.
It said the presence of irregular migrants also meant that health services may not be available for such populations, including coronavirus screening and referral mechanisms for those, who cross the border illegally.
"More so, the assessment team was informed that some of the migrants clandestinely use the unofficial points of entry to repatriate the human remains of their late relatives," IOM added.
"This poses a serious risk to the communities, as there are no guarantees on whether death was a result of Covid-19 and whether the burial or body handling will be conducted according to World Health Organisation standards on suspected Covid-19 cases, in case of Covid-19 related deaths."
The bodies are transported to as far as the Horn of Africa, the report says.
"The major routes for migrants through Beitbridge include of the migrants from Democratic Republic of Congo, who transit through Zambia or Mozambique then Zimbabwe with destination intention of South Africa and followed by migrants moving from the horn of Africa, including Ethiopia, Somalia and Tanzania, moving from Zambia or Malawi onwards to South Africa," IOM said.