Zimbabwe’s long political turmoil force youths into refugees

By Michelle Chifamba – Thirty- seven year old Hebert Janga relocated to Malawi with his wife and three children in 2012 – to date, he and his family have not visited their relatives back home because they are undocumented.

In a telephone interview Janga said his passport expired in 2014, while his wife’s travelling documents now attract a fine from immigration because she has overstayed in that country and can no longer pass through the border easily.

“We no longer have travelling documents to travel back home. If we decide to go back today, it will be difficult and very expensive. The children need new travelling documents because when we came they used Emergency Travelling Documents (ETDs), which expired after 6 months of being issued,”   Janga said.

Despite being undocumented, Janga and his family seem to be living a happy life as he secured a job at a fast food joint,   and his wife is now a tailor, while their children attend a private school in Malawi’s capital Blantyre.

“I solve one problem at a time,” Janga said.

“I will worry about the travelling documents when the time comes. At the moment I do not require them and I intend to go back to Zimbabwe when the government has changed and the economy has settled,” he added.

Back in Zimbabwe, Janga’s mother-in-law who recently visited Malawi seems not happy with the living conditions the couple is living in.

“I think life in Zimbabwe is better than that of Malawi. If I could have it my way I would ask them to come back. The poverty they escaped here in Zimbabwe seems much worse in Malawi,” narrated Janga’s mother-in-law.

According to reports from the United Nations Agency on Migration, nearly 33 000, youths across Africa join the search for employment in other countries.

In Zimbabwe, according to media and academic reports, since 2004 the number of professional Zimbabweans- including the youth  who have escaped the country’s borders in search of better living conditions has escalated and the motivators for relocation to foreign countries are economic and political challenges as well as  inequalities.

According to youths within Zimbabwe’s opposition political parties, the ruling party Zanu PF is benefitting from the problems it creates. The large number of youths escaping the country seems to be working for the ruling party to remain in power.

Zimbabwe National Students Association (ZINASU) said both the educated and uneducated Zimbabweans have crossed the country’s borders in search of greener pastures and this seems to be working for the ruling party as the country approaches the 2018 election.

 “Zimbabwe has been undergoing years of gross economic mismanagement that has led to the demise of the economy. As a result young people both educated and uneducated have crossed borders to neighbouring countries in search of greener pastures. This seems to be working for the ruling party to remain in power because all those in the Diaspora are not eligible to vote. The few remaining are persuaded to support the ruling party through the patronage system,” said ZINASU national spokesperson, Zivai Mhetu.

 “The few remaining youths in Zimbabwe are wallowing in poverty and that through desperation they are persuaded to support the ruling party, Zanu PF through a patronage system. Youths have been given residential stands and mining claims to vote for Zanu PF to remain in power,” Mhetu added that.

Furthermore, according to ZINASU people living in the diaspora have been denied their voting right and this affects the outcome of the election as the huge number of youths are living outside the country.

“Opposition parties advocating for the diaspora vote must devise methods of ensuring that those youths living outside the country are eligible to vote. Measures such as sending transport facilities to all neighbouring countries to ferry foreign based youths to register to vote is the best the opposition can do,” Mhetu said.

MDC-T Youth Assembly in a statement said youths are failing to attain their success because they have failed to defend their future by voting the ruling party out of power.

“Youths constitute the major voting population but many have fled from the economic crisis while the few that remain are not registered to vote. It is time for us as youths and all Zimbabweans to define our own future by registering to vote,” said MDC-T Youth Assembly in a statement recently.

However, analysts maintain that prospects of finding employment may be the significant reason to leave behind family, friends and family risking emotional and physical trauma during the process.

“Individual economic challenges such as poverty, unemployment, and homelessness, may not be the only factors that contribute to international relocation. Institutional and structural factors such as political instability may also serve as motivators of immigration to other countries,” said Sydney Chisi, an independent political analyst.

According to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), in Harare, the exact number of Zimbabweans who have left the country in the past decade of political and economic turmoil is very difficult to pin down.

“It is estimated that at least 4 million Zimbabweans are living and working abroad. However the absence of reliable statistics has placed a strain on the organisation’s work to catalogue the number of Zimbabweans living outside the country,” read part of an IOM 2016 report.

The Zimbabwe Statistical Agency (ZimStats) estimates that this year alone between January and June at least 3 000 migrants have skipped the border legally, while the number of undocumented immigrants is unknown.

The world commemorated International Youth Day on the 12th of August this year and the UN Secretary General noted that Africa’s Youth population is growing rapidly and is expected to reach over 830 million by 2050.  It is therefore the duty of governments to prioritise empowerment and employment.