The International Organization for Migration (IOM)Zimbabwe Chief of Mission Mario Lito Malanca said that the number of returnees exceeded expectations, highlighting the massive socio-economic impact 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.
The IOM is providing nurses to help Zimbabwean officials conduct COVID-19 tests.
It is also providing critical risk communications and disease surveillance, infection prevention and control, protection, water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) and reintegration assistance.
More than 1.9 million people have tested positive for COVID-19 in Southern Africa since March 2020, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), and over 60 000 lives were lost.
Worst hit were the three main destination countries for Zimbabwean migrant workers: South Africa, Malawi and Botswana.
An IOM survey of the returnees found that, in most cases, the decision to return was linked to the impacts of 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 were working.
The survey also found that the returnees have professional skills ranging from construction to trading, agriculture, catering, painting, and domestic work.
Zimbabwe COVID-19 guidelines require returnees to have valid COVID-19 certificates prior to entering the country. Without a valid test certificate, they are sent to provincial quarantine centres in Beitbridge, Plumtree and Chirundu to await testing.