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Refugees reach an incredible 45 million

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Zimbabwe continues to be the destination of choice for refugees fleeing the troubled Great Lakes region, says the UNHCR, and this is because many of the refugees believe Zimbabwe to be a peaceful country where they can easily assimilate.

Refugees from the Great Lakes region remember Zimbabwe from its participation in the second DR Congo war back in the late 1990s.

This came to light during a talk by Ron Mponda, the UNHCR Zimbabwe Senior Legal Advisor to commemorate World Refugee Day in Harare.

There are presently around 7,000 refugees in Zimbabwe, with the majority of them coming from the DRC, while others come from countries such as Burundi, Rwanda and Somalia.

Mponda explained that not all refugees are confined at Tongogara Camp in Chipinge as some can be found in Harare and Bulawayo where they have assimilated and have jobs.

Part of that assimilation has seen some being employed in Ministry of Justice for example where skilled refugees are working as lawyers. Mponda some says are also working in the Ministry of Health as doctors.

Since Zimbabwe got its independence in 1980, thousands of people fleeing civil war in their respective countries have landed here, and it is interesting that Mponda explained that under international law refugees are afforded the same rights as locals such as the right to universal access to primary education.

And indeed out of tribulation comes triumph. Mponda explained that students at the Tongogara Refugee Camp are some of the brightest in the country as shown by their pass rate, and this at a time some government schools are recording abysmal results!

It is sad however that the UNHCR says it continues to receive unaccompanied minors deported from South Africa, and this has become a major highlight of the plight of Zimbabweans living in SA.

It must be an unfathomable decision for anyone to abandon one’s flesh and blood and a minor at that so that the parent can continue their illegal stay in a foreign country.

Yet it does foreground the tough choices some are forced to make, all based on economic survival.

I still find it ironic that the popular refrain for many is that all the toiling humankind does is ultimately for their children, and unaccompanied minors continue being deported?

It’s always tough trying to understand people’s personal circumstances but as Mponda said, being a refugee is not an easy life, and Zimbabwe’s own economic refugees certainly know this only too well.

This year’s refugee commemorations were held under the theme “*1 refugee family without shelter is too many*.”

UNHCR reports that there are 45.2 million refugees worldwide, which is an 18-year high.

In Syria alone for example, the UN says the civil war has produced a staggering 1,5 million, and these are people living under tents and some in the open exposed to the elements.

The UNHCR says “if the number of people fleeing the Syrian conflict continues to increase at such a rate every 10 weeks there will be more 3.5 million Syrian refugees, or 15% of total population of Syria, by the end of the year.”

In Africa, there are “more than one million Somali refugees in the East and Horn of Africa and some 1.36 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Somalia, the country remains at the centre of one of the worst humanitarian crises UNHCR has faced.”

And we only have to recall the treatment the Somalis have received from South Africa and the xenophobic attacks they have endured, never mind all claims that refugees should under international law enjoy all protection from their host country.

A participant in the Mponda talk asked if the UNHCR was looking for the root causes of the refugee crisis in the first place than merely trying to deal with assisting them and it was a telling question about African politics and the quest for power at all costs.

Solving conflict is certainly one area the UN in its 68 years of existence has been found wanting.

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