Last Updated: Wednesday, 17 January 2018, 10:13 GMT

U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2003 - Zimbabwe

Publisher United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
Publication Date 1 June 2003
Cite as United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2003 - Zimbabwe , 1 June 2003, available at: [accessed 17 January 2018]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

An estimated 100,000 to 200,000 people were internally displaced in Zimbabwe at the end of 2002. About 8,000 Zimbabweans were asylum applicants in industrialized countries during the year.

Zimbabwe hosted 10,000 refugees at year's end, including nearly 5,000 from Congo-Kinshasa, 3,000 from Rwanda, 1,000 from Burundi, and about 1,000 from numerous other African countries.

Displacement in Zimbabwe

The Zimbabwean government launched an aggressive land reform program in 2000, ostensibly to redistribute farmland from a few thousand wealthy white families to hundreds of thousands of landless black households.

Although most domestic and international observers agreed on the need for large-scale land redistribution, the government's tactics encountered criticism from Zimbabwean courts, political opposition parties, human rights organizations, and much of the international community.

Critics charged that the farm seizures ignored proper legal procedures, failed to redistribute land equitably or efficiently, and triggered violence and forced population displacement.

By early 2002, authorities had listed some 4,000 white-owned farms for rapid acquisition, covering more than 22.4 million acres (9 million hectares). In May, officials ordered some 3,000 large landowners to cease farming and vacate their property.

Some farmers complied, while others mounted legal challenges that continued through the end of the year.

Government authorities claimed that land reform policies since 2000 have redistributed about nearly 10 million acres (about 4 million hectares) of farmland to more than 110,000 impoverished families. "My government has responded to the people's cry for land," President Robert Mugabe stated in June. "There is now a brighter future for our farming community across color, gender, and ethnic divides."

Many local critics of the redistribution program charged that officials awarded large plots of land to friends and political supporters, allowing favored families to gain multiple plots while tens of thousands of needy households remained on waiting lists for land.

The government failed to provide seeds, tools, and training for many of the inexperienced new landowners, hurting agricultural productivity and aggravating the country's food shortage amid a crippling drought.

Many of the 300,000 to 400,000 black laborers on commercial farms lost their jobs and their homes as growing numbers of large farms shut down. In some areas, violent gangs allegedly composed of military veterans forced farm laborers to flee. Some laborers returned to their traditional home areas, while others remained displaced.

Political violence linked to national elections in March 2002 also afflicted Zimbabwe, resulting in nearly 60 deaths, 30 disappearances, and more than 200 kidnappings by mid-year alone. Residents charged that supporters of the ruling party engaged in politically motivated rapes against women in opposition areas.

The political violence temporarily pushed up to 50,000 people from their homes, according to local humanitarian workers.

The total number of Zimbabweans displaced by political violence and the government's land redistribution program remained unclear at the end of 2002.

No definitive estimates were available, no displacement camps existed, and many families affected by the country's strife managed to resettle at new locations or quietly returned home when local tensions eased.

The U.S. Committee for Refugees estimated that the events of 2002 caused approximately 150,000 to 200,000 people to flee their homes, and that 100,000 or more Zimbabweans remained internally displaced at year's end.

Refugees in Zimbabwe

Some 1,000 new refugees and asylum seekers arrived in Zimbabwe during 2002, increasing the refugee and asylee population to 10,000 by year's end.

The overwhelming majority of refugees lived in urban areas without significant humanitarian assistance. Zimbabwe's deteriorating economy – plagued by 100 percent inflation, rising unemployment, and growing food shortages because of drought and government policies – eroded urban refugees' ability to support themselves.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) offered larger stipends to help the neediest urban refugees.

The government required refugees needing extensive humanitarian assistance to live at the country's sole refugee camp, Tongogara, in eastern Zimbabwe.

The 500 to 1,000 residents of Tongogara received food, water, health services, and access to local schools. UNHCR drilled a new well and installed two new water reservoirs to improve the camp's water supply.

Officials arrested two local aid workers in July on charges of sexually exploiting female refugees at Tongogara. The International Catholic Migration Commission dismissed the two employees, but blamed UNHCR and the government for lax management at the camp, citing "a vacuum of leadership, including the inadequate presence of officials in the camp."

UNHCR responded by adding two protection officers to its staff in Zimbabwe and opening a field office in Tongogara to monitor refugee protection.

The agency continued to offer training to government officials on international refugee protection standards and the need for proper identity cards for all refugees and asylum seekers.

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