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Refugees Struggle for Survival as Zim Economy Chokes 


CHIPINGE, Zimbabwe – They fled war to start new homes in Zimbabwe, but outside peace and acceptance by their adopted communities, the Mozambicans here are not feeling so homely due to a harsh economic environment and difficulties in getting national registration certificates.

With refugees getting a monthly stipend of $13 from the government, aid agencies including World Food Programme have chipped in with food assistance but it is not enough to adequately feed the ever growing migrant population in the country.

This has seen a sizeable number refugees venturing into small projects such as transport services and tuck shops among others, but for the unfortunate ones, South Africa has become an easy escape route out of their dire situation.

Sharon Armando (19) from Mozambique origin has been living in Chipinge for 14 years now. Her father, Jeremiah Armando ran away from the Mozambique conflict and settled in Zimbabwe, first at the Tongogara refugee camp and later opted for alternative accommodation in the communities.

Sharon could not go to school past grade seven due to non-availability of a birth certificate to register for examinations. Initially, she sort employment as a housemaid at one of the local schools before deciding to cross into South Africa.


Mozambican refugees at the Tongogara Refugee Camp in Chipinge

A year after she left, her two other siblings followed suit and have all settled in South Africa.

Sharon’s parents do not how she was able to cross the border without any documentation considering that they do not have birth certificates.

 “They are in South Africa but I have no idea how they crossed there since none of them has a birth certificate or national identity documents.

They called back soon after arriving in South Africa.

They have been sending us money every month and our situation has improved,” said Jeremiah Armando.

Zimbabwe is a preferred destination for many refugees but the economic situation has seen many migrants struggle to survive.

Zondai Meki who has settled with his family in Mabee village believe Zimbabwe’s economic challenges have affected his ability to fend for his family resulting in his children seeking greener pastures in South Africa.

“I came here in 2005 and have settled well but as you know, we do not own any land here, sometimes we rent out from local Zimbabweans but drought is a major problem.

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“Year in year out, we harvest so little that it is not enough to feed my family,” said Meki.

To fend for his family, Meki moves around the community looking for piece jobs like weeding and herding cattle but reckons that it is a tall order as the money he gets from his manoeuvres is not enough to see his family through the month.

The able bodied ones do not have identity documents which continue to frustrate their efforts to get employment opportunities in Zimbabwe.

Aaron Mende, a DRC national who spoke to 263Chat confirmed that Zimbabwe’s economy is hopeless especially for foreign nationals without work permits or any form of identification.

“My two children are in South Africa, they are working there, part of the money I used to buy this Toyota Noah came from them,” said Mende.

Artwell Sithole from Rimbi village believes foreign nationals who are in Zimbabwe enjoy the peace in the country which is better than most countries in Africa but are moving to other countries to look for better opportunities.

“There are some who come and settle here but they struggle to find land for agriculture,” said Sithole.

Andrew Gwenzi from Mabee along the Zimbabwe-Mozambique border blamed government for neglecting Chipinge saying most foreign refugees were struggling to survive outside the donations and government stipends.

Gwenzi said foreign nationals living outside the refugee camps were struggling to access health care services as they do not have identity documents which are sometimes demanded by health officials for one to get medical attention.

“Their children do not go to school and they cannot access clinics and hospitals because they do not have any documentation, so this is major problem they face which makes their life difficult in Zimbabwe.

“If anything, government should look into those who have been around for more than 10 years and give them permanent residency status to enable them to look for proper jobs, send their children to school and allow them to access most services they are deprived because of their status,” said Gwenzi.

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Chipinge and Chimanimani offers very little economic opportunities even to locals due to the absence of major industries. The once vibrant tea plantations in the eastern Chipinge and Chimanimani have of late suffered from low production since the land reform and have not been able to absorb all the refugees who used to engage in manual jobs especially during times of civil unrest in their countries.

Platform for Youth Development Trust (PYD) which operates in Chipinge noted that there are over 5000 Mozambican nationals in Chipinge either at Tongogara Refugee camp or in the communities.

PYD Projects Officer, Cynthia Gwenzi said most Mozambican nationals in Chipinge end up proceeding to South Africa in search of better opportunities.

“Some of them work in Zimbabwe for a month or two to raise money to proceed to South Africa. The prevailing economic situation in the country makes it difficult for them to survive because there are no opportunities,” she said.


Mozambican refugees have been flocking into Zimbabwe since the beginning of civil unrests, their major challenge is survival without access to land, employment opportunities and social acceptance

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Country Representative Robert Tibagwa said they are working on programmes targeted at refugees including counselling and income-generating projects.

“We have competent staff that does this work, offering counselling and finding solutions to the people that suffer violence,” he said.

After visiting Tongogara Refugee Camp in August this year, Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa underscored government’s commitment to the protection of refugees and provision of education, health and shelter for the betterment of the lives of thousands of refugees housed in the country.

“We have the seen how you are living here and we will try to improve your living conditions,” said Mnangagwa.

According to UNHRC, 65.6 million people around the world have been forced from homes with nearly 22.5 million refugees, over half of whom are under the age of 18.

In addition, there are 10 million stateless people who have been denied a nationality and access to basic rights such as education, healthcare, employment and freedom of movement.

While they have settled in some way away from their original homes across Zimbabwe’s eastern border, for hundreds of Mozambican migrants, the Zimbabwe economy is in such bad shape that it has forced to eke a living further down in South Africa.

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