Refugees caught in Zimbabwe blitz

News and Press Release
Originally published
Sapa | Harare, Zimbabwe

Nearly 100 refugees from various African countries are being detained in Zimbabwe as part of an ongoing police blitz in illegal housing, a newspaper reported on Tuesday.

Ninety-four people from Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Eritrea, Mozambique and Rwanda handed themselves over to immigration officials after shack homes they had been living in were demolished in Harare, reported the state-controlled Herald.

Last month, police began demolishing shack houses throughout the country as part of a controversial "clean-up" campaign called "Operation Restore Order" to clamp down on crime and spruce up the image of Zimbabwe's towns and cities. At least 200 000 people are estimated to have been made homeless.

A senior immigration official told the Herald that 94 refugees had escaped from a camp in Chipinge, south-eastern Zimbabwe, some years ago and had been living in Harare's poor suburb of Mbare, where police have demolished thousands of shacks in recent weeks.

"Our investigations showed that the refugees sneaked out of Tongogara Refugee Camp in Chipinge several years ago and most of them were now living in Mbare with their families," said the official, Elasto Mugwadi. He said they would be sent back to the camp.

Other refugees are believed to be hiding in some of Harare's sprawling suburbs.

The operation, which has the backing of President Robert Mugabe, comes in the middle of the Southern African winter and has been condemned by the United States, the United Nations, the European Union, human rights groups and churches.

The opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) says it is a blatant attack on its supporters, most of whom live in cities.

As a result of the ongoing blitz, bread queues have resurfaced in many parts of Harare after police destroyed makeshift shops, the Daily Mirror reported on Tuesday.

Many Zimbabweans living in low-income suburbs depended on tuck shops -- unofficial grocery stores -- for their bread supplies.

Residents of eastern suburbs like Mabvuku and Tafara are now having to queue for long hours outside established supermarkets for bread, a staple that is in short supply across the country because of a worsening wheat shortage.

"Tuck shops were really assisting us, said Mabvuku resident Tapiwa Chiwetu. In richer suburbs, shops are limiting bread sales to two loaves per customer.

The Daily Mirror said that some people who had lost their homes in Tafara suburb were sleeping out in the open.

Local doctors' group Zimbabwe Doctors for Human Rights says it believes as many as one million people may have been made homeless by the blitz. - Sapa