BULAWAYO – The International Organization for Migration (IOM) warned of a “deeper crisis” on Tuesday after more than 200,000 Zimbabweans working in other countries were forced to return home by the Covid-19 pandemic as they faced hunger and other economic hardships after losing their livelihoods.
IOM Zimbabwe Chief of Mission Mario Lito Malanca said the number of returnees in the past year had “exceeded expectations, highlighting the massive socio-economic impact the virus has had across regions.”
He said long-term solutions were needed to provide a safety net for them, warning that in the absence of such measures, some of them may be forced to resort to unscrupulous ways of survival.
“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,” Malanca cautioned in a statement.
The returnees, whose “professional skills range from construction to trading, agriculture, catering, painting, and domestic work,” face limited or zero prospects of job opportunities in a country saddled with a 90 percent or so unemployment rate and a deepening economic crisis.
Malanca said the three main destination countries for Zimbabwean migrant workers – South Africa, Malawi, and Botswana – were some of the worst-hit by the respiratory virus, forcing repeated lockdowns that resulted in company closures and massive job losses.
The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that more than 1.9 million people have tested positive for Covid-19 in Southern Africa since March 2020, while over 60,000 have died.
The IOM says a survey of the Zimbabwe 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.”
It says it’s working with the government of Zimbabwe “to tackle the push factors of the returnees,” and “setting up internal mechanisms of socio-economic reintegration through employment assistance projects.”
The inter-governmental organization added: “On Thursday 22 April, IOM and the Zimbabwean Embassy in South Africa are organizing 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 recently launched USD 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.”