Sat, Jan 21, 2006 - Page 6 News List

Migrants fleeing Zimbabwe feared drowned in S Africa

THE GUARDIAN , PRETORIA

Zimbabwean and South African police called off the search on Thursday for as many as 60 Zimbabweans feared drowned when they tried to cross the Limpopo river to enter South Africa illegally.

Helicopters, divers and foot patrols searched for two days along the swollen river near Dite village, about 48km from Beitbridge, the main border post to South Africa.

Dite residents told officials they saw the large group try to cross the river, which is currently a raging torrent because of heavy rains. The group held hands to form a human chain, but the surging current swept them away, according to witnesses.

Zimbabwe's state newspaper, the Herald, said the number of dead could be as high as 60. The Limpopo river is teeming with crocodiles, which could have taken several of the missing. Others may have washed down the river to Mozambique.

Thousands of desperate Zimbabweans cross the border to South Africa each week, fleeing food shortages, unemployment and state repression, according to human rights groups.

South Africa caught and deported 97,000 back to Zimbabwe last year. But many Zimbabweans are undeterred and continue crossing illegally into South Africa.

Some illegal immigrants hide in vehicles that drive across the Beitbridge border and others bribe immigration officials. But the largest number brave crocodiles and the current to cross the Limpopo.

An estimated 2 million to 3 million Zimbabweans are currently living in South Africa, the vast majority illegally, according to South African officials. Some find work on the large South African farms near the Zimbabwean border.

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