More than 200,000 Zimbabweans have returned home since early 2020 as the economic fallout from COVID-19 took a toll on countries where they have been working, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) announced on Tuesday.
IOM Zimbabwe chief of mission Mario Lito Malanca said the number of returnees exceeded expectations, highlighting the urgent need for long-term solutions for regions that have suffered massive socio-economic impact from the virus.
"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," Malanca said in a statement.
He revealed that 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.
Malanca said the IOM is assisting the government of Zimbabwe to engage with its neighbours “toward bilateral agreements to tackle the push factors for the returns, while setting up internal mechanisms of socio-economic reintegration through employment assistance projects.”
More than 1.9 million people have tested positive for COVID-19 in southern Africa since March 2020, according to the World Health Organization, and over 60,000 lives have been lost.
Malanca said the three main destination countries for Zimbabwean migrant workers - South Africa, Malawi and Botswana - have been hardest hit by the virus.