is a RadioNetherlands interview with a local bishop on the refugee problem...but it's from late in 2004...if it was that bad then, wonder how it is now...
Human rights groups are warning of grave consequences for Zimbabwe as millions of people try to escape the Mugabe regime. A new report says about one quarter of the population has already fled from political oppression and poverty, and most of them have settled in South Africa.
Some 70 percent of the Zimbabwean workforce has left, robbing the country of vital labour. In addition, the large numbers of refugees are causing tensions in South Africa.
Bishop Kevin Dowling of the South African Catholic Bishops Conference has been researching the trend. In this interview with Radio Netherlands he describes the extent of the problem:
"These are people of the age group of 18 to 35, it's also the skilled population, including teachers. They find themselves reduced to begging, trying to find just some way to survive. It's the whole gamut of the population, skilled people as well as unskilled, untrained young people and young adults in particular."
RN: "What effect is this exodus of professionals having on Zimbabwean society?""It's devastating, because the services, whether it be teaching, education, health services, everything is breaking down. The skilled population needed to drive the whole economy, the production capacity of the country - this is being severely limited now."
"So, this is precisely what is causing so many additional problems and this led to this exodus of so many people, because what is happening there is that people are in dire straits, they're not getting particular care in terms of health services, and so forth. And because of the political situation of course, which is extremely oppressive and increasingly so, people are being driven out."
"One of the things that we highlight in this report is the politicisation of food distribution. The Zimbabwe government has consistently maintained in the last year that there is no problem, where in fact there is a very serious problem. UN agencies now predict a 50 percent food deficit, and what is happening is that the available food is being politicised."
"People who are perceived to be supporters of the opposition, or known MDC opposition areas, they are being denied food. And this is causing a very serious problem, which we want to test in South Africa as a reason for refugee status. If food is denied to you by political decision-making then you are in fact a political refugee if you flee the country because you cannot get food. Because it puts you in physical danger."
RN: "Wouldn't that encourage more Zimbabweans to leave the country?"
"Of course, and this is what is happening. There's been a very marked increase in the number of refugees from Zimbabwe fleeing south, not only to South Africa, but also to Botswana, which is very close to Zimbabwe as well. But we have a huge number: the Zimbabwe group is now the second biggest number of refugees after Mozambique in our country, and if the current situation persists, then there will certainly be more."
RN: "It seems to place the people of Zimbabwe in a kind of dilemma: because if that legal challenge that you would like to mount results in a recognition of refugee status of Zimbabweans leaving the country, and more Zimbabweans leave, then of course this puts Zimbabwean society in even more dire straits than it already was…"
"Exactly, and it's also, unfortunately, causing immense problems down here, because we have a 40 to 45 percent unemployment rate. One of the things that's emerging from all this is xenophobia, because this huge number of Zimbabwean refugees are perceived by many of the poor and unemployed as taking potential jobs."
"If we've got two million, at least between one and two million, Zimbabwean refugees down here, putting added strain on our resources and the 24 million South African people living down the poverty line here, you can imagine all this is only complicating and exacerbating the whole situation."© Radio Nederland