US$7m spent on refugees

by Ngoni Chanakira

The cash-strapped government of Zimbabwe has asked for US$7 million to cater for asylum seekers at its Tongogara Refugee Camp in Chipinge, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), has confirmed.

Marcelline Hepie, UNHCR Zimbabwe Resident Representative, said: "Zimbabwe has asked for US$8 million, mainly in food aid from the latest Consolidated Appeal (CAP) for 2011. The UN is spending close to US$7 million on refugees here and about US$2,5 million has been spent already."

The UNHCR recently revealed that Zimbabwe had 5 301 asylum seekers and refugees in the country. It denied that that there were any more than this, as claimed in the local and international Media in their "inaccurate reports".

"People do not really understand the term refugee and asylum seeker as applied by the United Nations Convention which was signed by most countries," said a UNHCR representative. "The individuals you see from Ethiopia and Somalia are just passing through the country and, therefore, they cannot be called refugees," she said.

"In Zimbabwe, refugees are only housed at the Tongogara Refugee Camp in Chipinge," UNHCR Senior Regional External Relations Officer, Tina Ghelli, said.

"There are mixed movements of refugees and asylum seekers in Zimbabwe today. At the beginning of 2011, Tongogara Refugee Camp experienced approximately 70 - 90 new arrivals each month.

"In February 2011, approximately 83 asylum seekers were detained. This includes 21 under the age of 12. It was reported in March that approximately 300 Somalis and Ethiopians transit through Zimbabwe every month. Of those individuals eventually reaching the Camp, only 30 to 35 percent remain in the Tongogara Refugee Camp." - Ngoni Chanakira