An official of the United Nations' refugee agency says a contingency plan it has put in place for a possible flood of Zimbabwean refugees is just a routine precaution.
U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres disclosed the existence of the plan on the weekend to reporters, but said most of the Zimbabweans pouring into neighboring countries are not seeking political asylum.
Consequently, said Guterres, currently in the Southern African region to assess the situation in Zambia, Mozambique and South Africa, said his agency has no mandate to intervene on behalf of the millions of Zimbabweans who have left their homeland.
An estimated 2 million to 3 million Zimbabweans have crossed into South Africa, most illegally, some to flee political persecution but most to seek economic survival. Many thousands more have migrated to neighboring Botswana and Zambia.
"It is our wish that the problems in Zimbabwe will be solved," Guterres told reporters. "We have no mandate to intervene but we are discussing with the humanitarian community to see how we can help."
Agency spokesman Andre Mahecic told reporter Ndimyake Mwakalyelye of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that the UNHCR has not declared a crisis because most of the Zimbabwean emigrés by their own admission are fleeing economic hardship.
Project lawyer Anna Yvonne Moyo of the Zimbabwe Exiles Forum in Johannesburg said the UNHCR's position can be justified - but that the agency should overhaul its police to be able to relieve those who do not strictly qualify as refugees.