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Faith Nyasuguta 

A recent report by the US Human Rights 2021 says Zimbabwe has forcibly returned 70 refugees to the DR Congo in violation of international law.

The refugees, previously hosted at the Tongogara refugee camp, were “accused of looting a food supply warehouse” and were initially arrested in August 2021, it adds.

“The government forcibly returned approximately 70 of these refugees to the DRC in violation of international law according to an international organisation,” the report says.

“DRC authorities rejected approximately 15 of these refugees, whom the government then placed in detention facilities in Harare.”

As of November 2021, the Tongogara Refugee Camp was home to 15,797 refugees and asylum seekers, despite the facility being designed to host 3,000 refugees.

Many of the refugees were from the DRC representing 76 percent (76%) of the bulk, followed by Mozambique at 11 percent (11%), Burundi at six percent (6%) and Rwanda five percent (5%).

Before Covid-19, about 100 refugees and asylum seekers arrived at the camp monthly. The US report says some of the migrants and refugees faced abuse from security forces in Zimbabwe.

Zimbabwe refugee camp. Zimbabwe forcibly returned 70 refugees to the DRC after they were accused of looting food supplies at a camp /Image, NMG/

“Security forces routinely detained migrants, who lacked identification documents or permits to be in the country and held them in prisons with convicted criminals,” the report says.

The prolonged detention was common and migrants complained of mistreatment by other prisoners and poor amenities at the facilities.

“Prison conditions were harsh and life-threatening due to overcrowding, food shortages, lack of water, physical mistreatment of prisoners, lack of access to personal protective equipment to mitigate the spread of Covid-19, and inadequate sanitary conditions and medical care,” the report added.

“Non-governmental organisations reported the use of excessive force but noted that prison guards did not employ it systematically.”

The government maintained a formal encampment policy requiring refugees to live at Tongogara Refugee Camp. Nevertheless, at the end of year, approximately 850 refugees lived in urban areas, including Harare and Bulawayo.

Over 6,500 Mozambican asylum seekers lived among host communities along the porous border with Mozambique.

Up to date, refugees and asylum seekers from across Africa use Zimbabwe as a transit to neighbouring South Africa. Human traffickers also take advantage of the country’s porous borders to move desperate immigrants.

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Faith Nyasuguta

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