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Human Rights Watch Urges South Africa to Grant Zimbabweans Asylum Status

Human Rights Watch has urged the government of South African to grant asylum to what it conservatively estimates as 1 million Zimbabweans fleeing deepening hardship at home.

The New York-based watchdog group issued a report saying Zimbabwean emigrants should be granted temporary status and work rights as a matter of international law and in recognition of their need for protection given conditions in Zimbabwe.

It said 25,000 to 30,000 Zimbabweans filed requests for asylum in Musina, South Africa, in the last five months of 2008, twice the number of requests in 2007 in all of South Africa.

"To avoid deportation from South Africa, Zimbabweans currently have no option but to claim asylum, placing even greater pressure on a system already struggling to process refugee claims according to international standards," Human Rights Watch said.

"Flooding the asylum system with Zimbabwean claims puts all refugees in South Africa at risk of being unable to lodge their claims or of having their cases incorrectly rejected," a release quoted Human Rights Watch refugee researcher, Gerry Simpson, as saying. "It also utterly fails to address the needs of well over 1 million Zimbabweans in South Africa."

Human rights lawyer and Zimbabwe Exiles Forum Executive Director Gabriel Shumba told reporter Jonga Kandemiiri of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe in an interview from Pretoria that his organization hopes Pretoria embraces the Human Rights Watch's recommendations.

More reports from VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe...