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COVID-19 Pandemic Forces 200,000 Devastated Zimbabweans to Return Home

FILE - Zimbabweans deported from Botswana wait at the International Organization for Migration center in Zimbabwe.

More than 200,000 Zimbabweans have returned home over the past year due to the economic fallout from COVID-19 in countries where they had been working, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

In a statement posted on its website, IOM Zimbabwe Chief of Mission, Mario Lito Malanca, said the number of returns exceeded expectations, highlighting the massive socio-economic impact the virus has had across the regions, requiring a refocus on long-term solutions.

“Without these measures, we will see many returnees falling deeper into crisis, resorting to negative coping mechanisms, and possibly being forced to migrate once again through irregular means,” he said.

An IOM survey of the returnees found that, in most cases, the decision to return was linked to the impacts of the pandemic, including financial challenges, hunger and loss of accommodation, lack of access to medical assistance, mental health support, identity document issues and the risk of assault in the country where they were working.

The survey also found that the returnees have professional skills ranging from construction to trading, agriculture, catering, painting, and domestic work.

IOM said the Zimbabwean government’s guidelines require returnees to have valid COVID-19 certificates prior to entering the country. Without a valid test certificate, they are sent to provincial quarantine centres in Beitbridge, Plumtree and Chirundu to await testing.

It said with support from IOM and its Development Fund (IDF), the Government of Zimbabwe is engaging with its neighbours toward bilateral agreements to tackle the push factors of the returns, while setting up internal mechanisms of socio-economic reintegration through employment assistance projects.

On Thursday 22 April, IOM and the Zimbabwean Embassy in South Africa are orhanising a virtual webinar on Zimbabwe Diaspora engagement for development. The objective is to initiate a sustained dialogue between the government of Zimbabwe and its Diaspora on development-related issues.

IOM Zimbabwe’s recently launched US$38.9 million Crisis Response Plan 2021 aims to strengthen COVID-19 preparedness and response capacities well into 2021 and to promote socio-economic reintegration through self-employment, community income projects and livelihood activities targeting 1.7 million people.

More than 1.9 million people have tested positive for COVID-19 in Southern Africa since March 2020, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), and over 60,000 lives were lost. Worst hit were the three main destination countries for Zimbabwean migrant workers: South Africa, Malawi and Botswana.

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