More than 200,000 Zimbabwean migrant workers returned home because of pandemic

Financial challenges, hunger and loss of accommodation are just some of the factors that have forced many ZImbabweans to return home during the Covid-19 pandemic. Stock photo.
Financial challenges, hunger and loss of accommodation are just some of the factors that have forced many ZImbabweans to return home during the Covid-19 pandemic. Stock photo.
Image: 123RF/jk21

More than 200,000 Zimbabweans have returned home over the past year because of economic fallout from Covid-19 in countries where they had been working, according to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM).

IOM Zimbabwe chief of mission Mario Lito Malanca said that the number of returnees exceeded expectations, highlighting the huge socio-economic affect the virus has had across the regions, requiring a refocus on long-term solutions.

“Without these measures, we will see many returnees falling deeper into crisis, resorting to negative coping mechanisms and possibly being forced to migrate once again through irregular means,” he said.

At least 25% of Zimbabwe’s population have left the country as a reaction to rising political instability and the economic crisis, but many are now opting to return home due to the economic fallout from the pandemic.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) more than 1.9m people have tested positive for Covid-19 in Southern Africa since March 2020 and more than 60,000 lives were lost. Malanca said the worst hit were the three main destination countries for Zimbabwean migrant workers — SA, Malawi and Botswana.

The IOM survey of Zimbabwe returnees found that, in most cases, the decision to return was linked to the pandemic, including financial challenges, hunger and loss of accommodation, lack of access to medical assistance, mental health support, identity document issues and the risk of assault in the country where they worked. 

IOM said it was working with the government of Zimbabwe to engage with its neighbours towards “bilateral agreements to tackle the push factors of the returns, while setting up internal mechanisms of socio-economic reintegration through employment assistance projects.”

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