Sanctuary in the Sunburned North
This is part four of a five part assignment for Médecins Sans Frontières on the migration of refugees from impoverished Zimbabwe into South Africa. Photos Copyright ©2009 Austin Andrews / Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF). Not to be reprinted or reproduced without permission.
As the world’s worst humanitarian crisis outside a conflict zone, the collapse of Zimbabwe has had profound consequences reaching far outside its borders. They’ve been better documented elsewhere so I’ll just skim their surfaces here.
Perhaps the most visible sign has been the mass exodus of people from the cities and towns, most of them escaping to weather the economic storm from the relative stability of neighbouring Botswana and South Africa. Some estimates put the current population of Zimbabwe below 8 million, down from a peak of 12.5 million at the turn of the millennium, with as many as 3.4 million recent emigrants residing in South Africa alone.
This is a visit to the border regions of Beitbridge in Zimbabwe and the nearby refugee camps in the South African town of Musina.
The three-fence electrified border between Zimbabwe and South Africa retreats into the distance toward Botswana. The border patrol employs a full-time team of workers to patch up sections of the fence snipped during illegal crossings the night before.
The main obstacle to Zimbabweans preparing to cross the border, the crocodile-infested Limpopo River in Matabeleland South is also a stronghold of the Guma-Guma, a gang of rebel bandits who prey on migrants hiding in the scrubland.
15km from the border back in South Africa, the showgrounds in Musina were until recently an informal camp for as many as 4000 homeless Zimbabwean refugees awaiting their asylum papers. The showgrounds were formally closed two weeks ago, although several hundred still sleep every night on its dirt pitch.
Several major NGOs operate out of Musina; in addition to MSF, organisations with a base here include Save the Children, the International Organization for Migration, Oxfam, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, and, pictured here, one of several chapters of the Red Cross.
Part five, a return visit to the Central Methodist Church in downtown Johannesburg, will be posted here tomorrow.