The Botswana Minister of Labour and Home Affairs, Letlhogonolo Siele, accompanied by senior immigration officials, has left Gaborone this afternoon for Zimbabwe’s border town of Plumtree to attend tomorrow’s (March 4) official launching of an International Organization for Migrants (IOM) sponsored reception and support centre for irregular migrants returned home from Botswana.
Siele and his Zimbabwean counterparts will officially open the centre at the behest of the IOM.
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.
Erin Foster, Information Officer at the IOM office based in Harare, told the Sunday Standard in an interview that since last May, IOM has provided, through the centre, humanitarian assistance to nearly 33,450 returned irregular migrants in the form of food, basic health care and referrals for further treatment.
“The humanitarian assistance entailed protection support, including psychosocial and legal assistance as well as transport home,” said Foster. She added that returnees are also provided with information and education materials on HIV and AIDS in addition to being given voluntary HIV and AIDS testing and counselling services.
Foster has confirmed that Zimbabwe’s Social Welfare minister, Paurina Mpariwa, with co-Ministers of Home Affairs, Kembo Mohadi and Giles Mutsekwa, will formally open the centre with Botswana’s Siele.
Local authorities representatives from Zimbabwe are expected to witness the occasion. IOM Chiefs and Diplomatic officials from the United Nations as well as the Swedish Development Agency (SIDA) are set to be in attendance.
Lebogang Bok, Principal Public Relations Officer at Botswana’s labour ministry said, “I can only confirm that indeed the Minister is set to participate, and affirm that it is about the official launch of a reception and support centre for migrants.”
However, she declined to go into an elaborate discussion of the details saying this is a joint IOM, Zimbabwe arrangement. “It would be unfair of me to comment further as our involvement is only in as far as both parties recognized us as important stakeholders.”
An official at the Zimbabwe Embassy who was reluctant to offer their particulars, said, “The senior staff that would be better placed to say much on the issue has already left for Plumtree. However, our task here was limited to extending invitations to the Botswana authorities as our affected colleagues.”
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.