The Plumtree Reception and Support Centre was officially launched on Wednesday 4 March by Zimbabwe’s Minister of Labour and Social Welfare, Pauline Mpariwa, with Co-Ministers of Home Affairs, Kembo Mohadi and Giles Mutsekwa, with Peter Letlhogonolo Siele, Botswana’s Minister of Labour and Home Affairs.
The centre, on the border with Botswana, first opened its doors to the migrants in May 2008 with an estimated 3000 migrants going through it per month.
Representatives from Zimbabwean local authorities, International Organization Migrants, United Nations and the Swedish development agency (Sida), and British development agency (DFID) were in attendance.
Included in the programme of the launch were remarks from invited dignitaries as well as performances from traditional dancers and a drama on safe migration from peer educators from the IOM Safe Zone in Bulawayo to spice the event.
The Safe Zone is a youth centre that is part of an ongoing information campaign to raise awareness on the risks and realities of irregular migration, a second one is also operating in Chiredzi, another Zimbabwean township.
Siele, who also had a chance to make a presentation, appreciated being involved in the process of establishing the centre from the early stages, including the location of the centre and he hoped the process would continue with the stakeholders in Zimbabwe to ensure the humane and proper processing of Zimbabwe returnees.
He said, “We look at the centre as an important facility which will help in the documentation of returnees and therefore should provide data as may be needed.”
He added, “This esteemed gathering may wish to note that we have had to put up 4 holding centres at a cost with the highest cost around twenty four million pula.”
Siele further acknowledged the fact that it was opportune for Botswana to request organizations like IOM, the UN system and others to continue to assist with the necessary means of cushioning the effects of ‘such activities on the economies of the countries concerned.’
After the official dedication of the centre by Minister Mpariwa, the dignitaries were invited for a tour of the grounds to further understand the functions and assistance of the centre. Officials also had the opportunity to visit with returned Zimbabweans who arrived for assistance to understand their journey and appreciate the return process.
Logang Bok, the Principal Public Relation Officer at Botswana Ministry of Labour and Home Affairs, said the minister would not comment on the issue until after briefing the cabinet on Monday.
The centre at Plumtree is second of its kind that has been established by IOM to provide humanitarian assistance to irregular Zimbabwean migrants who have been returned back home.
Another one was opened in May 2006 at Beitbridge on Zimbabwe’s border with South Africa and, according to IOM authorities, it has since helped about 304, 000 people. Currently, it is reported that at least 11 000 Zimbabweans are being returned through Beitbridge every month.
Foster highlighted the fact that, like Beitbridge, the Plumtree centre, which is funded by SIDA, the Dutch Government and the UK’s Department for International Development (DIFD), offers training to border officials, police, as well as social service providers and relevant local authorities, on migrants’ rights, human trafficking and irregular migration and smuggling.
Where local authorities express any need for support, especially health interventions, the IOM officials said they are always ready to extend a hand. Examples of such interventions included fighting the cholera outbreak that has reportedly already killed 3, 900 people in Zimbabwe.
In tandem with the reception and support centre, and in partnership with the government of Zimbabwe and various other partners, IOM has expressed its determination to continue implementing a nationwide campaign providing migrants with information on the risks and realities of irregular migration, including their vulnerability to human trafficking and HIV infection.
“The aim of the Safe Journey campaign is to enable potential migrants and those who have been returned from neighbouring countries to make informed decisions on emigration,” concluded Foster.
It is hoped that, unlike in the past when migrants were transported from Botswana to the border and then left to fend for themselves, the centre will provide a humane transit facility that entails psychological preparation and transport home.
The IOM has indicated that they are in the process of piloting a project that would offer training on survival skills for the migrants with a view to encouraging them not to migrate again.
Closing remarks were given by Minister Mohadi who encouraged continued partnerships with the Government of Botswana and IOM to provide assistance to those Zimbabweans in need.