Brussels/Johannesburg/New York, June 28, 2008 — The international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) today expressed alarm at the deportation of approximately 500 Zimbabweans, including women and children, from a detention center in Musina, South Africa, at the border with Zimbabwe. South African authorities in Musina told MSF that they had increased patrols along the border during Zimbabwe’s run-off election period. Zimbabweans arrested during these patrols told MSF teams that they had crossed the border over the past few days, fleeing instability and political violence in their country. MSF calls for an immediate end to deportations of Zimbabweans, as well as for proper reception facilities where Zimbabweans can receive protection and assistance.
The detention center in Musina yesterday housed about four hundred men, fifty women, and fifteen children, nearly three times the usual number housed there. The MSF team gained access to the overcrowded center yesterday to assess their most urgent needs. When the team returned this morning with relief materials to start their work, they found the center completely emptied. The authorities confirmed that all Zimbabweans in the center had been transported back across the border.
“Hundreds of people have been sent back into the country from which they fled, without any recognition of their right to seek asylum,” said Rachel Cohen, head of mission for MSF in South Africa. “Deportations happen every day in South Africa but had apparently been halted yesterday on the occasion of the electoral run-off in Zimbabwe. We are shocked to find that the authorities are resuming this unacceptable practice, in violation of international as well as South African law, which guarantee the right to seek asylum and to access the assistance they need.”
MSF calls on the government of South Africa to recognise the right of Zimbabweans to flee to safety within South Africa. The authorities should provide proper places for Zimbabweans to stay where they are protected and can receive an acceptable level of assistance without further risk of deportation.
“We also call upon other international bodies to move away from small-scale measures towards comprehensive protection and care,” added Cohen. “It is essential that UN agencies with the mandate to protect and assist, such as UNHCR, provide screening for people arriving in South Africa and facilitate the recognition of refugee status for Zimbabweans.”
MSF has been present in South Africa since 1999, providing comprehensive HIV and TB care and treatment in Khayelitsha, Cape Town, and Lusikisiki, in Eastern Cape Province. Since December 2007 MSF has also been working in central Johannesburg and in Musina, at the Zimbabwean border, to provide Zimbabweans seeking refuge in South Africa with access to medical care. Following the recent violence and unrest targeting foreign nationals, MSF has been providing assistance to the affected population in Cape Town, Johannesburg, and Pretoria.