Last Updated: Wednesday, 21 February 2018, 16:20 GMT

U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2004 - Zimbabwe

Publisher United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
Publication Date 25 May 2004
Cite as United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2004 - Zimbabwe , 25 May 2004, available at: [accessed 22 February 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 people were internally displaced in Zimbabwe at the end of 2003. More than 5,000 Zimbabweans were asylum applicants in industrialized countries during the year.

Zimbabwe hosted some 12,000 refugees and asylum seekers at the end of 2003, including 5,000 from Congo-Kinshasa, 2,000 from Rwanda, and 1,000 from Burundi.

Displacement in Zimbabwe

The Zimbabwean government launched an aggressive land reform program in 2000, displacing wealthy white farmers and their black laborers ostensibly to redistribute farmland to hundreds of thousands of landless black households. In December 2003, the Presidential Land Implementation Committee reclaimed 200,000 hectares of land, comprising 400 farms, from white farm owners, according to the Zimbabwean government. Although most domestic and international observers agreed on the need for large-scale land redistribution, Zimbabwean courts, political opposition parties, human rights organizations, and much of the international community criticized the government's tactics. Critics charged that the seizures ignored legal procedure, failed to redistribute land equitably, or efficiently, and triggered violence and forced population displacement.

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 laborers to flee. Some laborers returned to their traditional home areas, while others remained displaced. The government failed to provide seeds, tools, and training for many of the inexperienced new landowners, paralyzing agricultural productivity and aggravating the country's food shortage amid a crippling drought.

Zimbabwe faced acute food shortages during the year with some 5.5 million people, roughly half the population, in need of food aid. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) reported that food production had fallen by more than 50 percent during the year due to displacement, land reform, and drought. However, the World Food Programme (WFP) halved its food rations in December due to a lack of funding. The Zimbabwe government politicized access to food, restricting the distribution of government-subsidized grain and international food aid to government party supporters, according to international human rights reports.

For five years and continuing in 2003, political violence primarily by ruling party supporters against supporters of the opposition party has resulted in widespread loss of life, torture, and displacement. In April, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) opposition party and the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) led a nationwide three-day strike protesting political repression and economic decline, triggering a severe government backlash. Police arrested and tortured more than 100 opposition supporters and pro-government militias, known as "green bombers," attacked and displaced countless others. The violence temporarily pushed tens of thousands of people from their homes.

The total number of Zimbabweans displaced by political violence and the government's land redistribution program remained unclear at the end of 2003. 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 about 150,000 people fled their homes during the year, and that 100,000 or more Zimbabweans remained internally displaced at year's end.

Zimbabwe Refugees in Botswana

As many as 800,000 Zimbabweans have fled to Botswana since 1999. The Botswana government curbed the influx of Zimbabwe asylum seekers in 2003 by forcibly repatriating between 30,000 and 50,000 Zimbabweans during the year. Many of the forcibly repatriated Zimbabweans soon fled back to Botswana.

Return from South Africa

Increasing its repatriation of Zimbabweans, South Africa forced more than 40,000 Zimbabweans to return home during the first nine months of 2003. As many as three million lived without asylum or refugee status in South Africa. South African authorities contend that the majority of Zimbabweans entered South Africa for economic reasons.

Refugees in Zimbabwe

Some 2,000 new refugees and asylum seekers arrived in Zimbabwe during 2003, increasing their number to 12,000 by year's end. The overwhelming majority of refugees lived in urban areas without significant humanitarian assistance. Zimbabwe's deteriorating economy – plagued by 500 percent inflation, rising unemployment, and growing food shortages – eroded their ability to support themselves. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) offered larger stipends to help the neediest urban refugees.

In February, some 300 refugees from the Great Lakes region entered the country, mostly Rwandans expelled from Ngara refugee camp by the Tanzanian government and fearing retribution if they returned to Rwanda. They quickly overburdened the ill-equipped refugee transit centers in Waterfalls, Harare, and Zimbabwe's sole refugee camp, Tongogara, in the town of Chipinge in the eastern part of the country. Refugees from Congo-Kinshasa in Tongogara camp clashed with those from Rwanda at year's end, demanding the removal of residents who participated in the Rwandan genocide. The government required refugees needing humanitarian assistance to live at Tongogara. UNHCR provided its 1,000 residents food, water, health services, and access to local schools. UNHCR continued to offer training to government officials on international refugee protection standards, and urged the government to issue identity cards to all refugees and asylum seekers.

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