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Many individuals will be unable to access the Zimbabwe documentation process before the deadline
Forced Migration Studies Programme, Wits University
December 13, 2010

As the deadline for the Zimbabwean documentation process rapidly approaches, the Forced Migration Studies Programme (FMSP) has identified shortcomings at various Gauteng Department of Home Affairs offices. FMSP's research reveals a process that is not running effectively, despite claims to the contrary by Home Affairs.

Interim results from FMSP's survey of applicants queuing outside the Pretoria, Harrison Street, and Market Street offices highlight the experiences of 366 applicants at these offices between 22 October and 3 December.

According to the survey results, over 90 percent of respondents had a Zimbabwean passport prior to the start of this process. This means that individuals who applied for passports after the announcement of the documentation programme were largely excluded from the process at least through the beginning of December.

In addition, the survey revealed that half of those applying for the permits are asylum seekers, while most of the remaining applicants are undocumented. According to Roni Amit, senior researcher with the Forced Migration Studies Programme, there were approximately 400,000 Zimbabwean asylum applicants in South Africa between 2008 and 2010.

She added, "Assuming that many of these individuals will apply for these permits, and that an additional number of undocumented Zimbabweans will also apply, this suggests a serious problem with the numbers. Between 20 September and 1 December, Home Affairs was able to accept 99, 435 applications. Yet, we are expected to believe that they will be able to accept an additional 100,000-300,000 applications—more than they were able to accept in the first two and a half months—in the remaining three weeks. Either Home Affairs knows something about the numbers that we do not, or the Department is not concerned that large numbers of eligible Zimbabweans will be unable to apply before the deadline and will be deported."

Prospective applicants expressed frustration over the long, slow process and the lack of information or communication while they queued for days outside the Home Affairs offices. They described spending all day in the queue, only to be told at the end of the day that they would have to come back the next day and try again. Many had to queue overnight, some with children in their care. They also complained that they were forced to stand all day in the sun and/or rain, with no access to toilets or seating.

As a result of the poor management and poor communication of the process, many individuals queued for three days simply to pick up an application form. They then had to start the queuing process over again in order to turn in their application. They were forced to return a third time to find out the status of their application. Each trip could involve multiple days in the queue.

Many prospective applicants worried about losing their jobs as a result of having to take many days off work to lodge their applications. They also expressed fear that they would not be processed before the deadline and would be deported.

"Multiple visits mean increased transport costs and lost wages, and for some, the risk of losing their jobs," said Amit. "It is likely that some eligible individuals are simply not attempting to apply because of these obstacles, and will remain undocumented."

According to Amit, many of the problems stem from the short timeline provided for the permitting process.

"Extending the deadline would ensure that all those eligible for these permits could apply, while also alleviating the long queues. Yet, Home Affairs continues to refuse to extend the deadline, without providing any reasons for its refusal. If the Department is serious about ensuring that all those who are eligible for these permits are able to apply, there is no reason not to extend the application period. Without an extension, the documentation process will be little more than a superficial measure."

FMSP will continue to monitor the queues at the Home Affairs offices until the end of the year, and will release additional findings in January, 2011.

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