South African authorities prepare to deport hundreds of immigrant workers
The deportations follow a string of xenophobic attacks. The crackdown began on as South Africa moved to convene negotiations between Zimbabwe's warring political parties.
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South Africa has 48 million people. It is hard to find a reliable estimate of the number of foreigners in the mix. Most certainly, not all immigrants push ahead of South Africans economically. But Somalis and Ethiopians have proved themselves successful shopkeepers in the townships.
Zimbabweans, who make up this country's largest immigrant group, benefited from a strong educational system before their homeland plunged into collapse, sending an estimated three million across the border to seek refuge here. Schoolteachers and other professionals — their salaries rendered worthless by Zimbabwe's hyperinflation — come to work as housekeepers and menial laborers.
The targeting of immigrants from Zimbabwe and other African countries is not a recent phenomenon, however, and extends well before recent election-related violence in Zimbabwe heightened the region's political instability. According to a Human Rights Watch report released in February 2007, South African officials were regularly arresting and deporting undocumented migrant workers while commercial farmers routinely violated their labor rights.
The 115-page report ... documents how state officials arrest, detain and deport undocumented foreign migrants, particularly those from Zimbabwe and Mozambique, in ways that contravene South Africa's immigration law. The report also details how commercial farmers ignore basic employment law protections even when they employ documented foreign migrants and South Africans....
Due to deteriorating political and economic conditions at home, as many as 3 million Zimbabweans are in South Africa seeking work and asylum. The South African government's visa requirements for Zimbabweans, coupled with the Zimbabwean government's lack of capacity to issue passports, make Zimbabweans particularly likely to be undocumented and thus vulnerable to arrest, detention, and deportation in South Africa.
As a result of the increase in the number of Zimbabwean deportees in recent years and the decline in the number of Mozambican deportees, Zimbabweans now surpass Mozambicans as the largest group of deportees from South Africa.