The Minister of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare, Honourable Paul Mavima, has called for the immediate removal of sanctions against Zimbabwe, stressing that these punitive measures imposed on the country more than two decades ago have seriously undermined the country’s ability to adequately meet the needs of “people of concern” to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR).
Addressing a meeting of the UNHCR’s Executive Committee in Geneva yesterday (10 October), the Minister referenced the recently-tabled Report of the Special Rapporteur on the impact of sanctions and the devastating effect those measures had had upon all sectors of socio-economic activity in the country.
The Executive Committee is meeting to receive and discuss status reports on the global refugee situation. By reason of conflict, persecution, food insecurity, climate emergency and the devastating impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, there are currently in excess of 100 million people, worldwide, officially classified as refugees, asylum-seekers and/or displaced persons, thereby falling under the protective umbrella of the UNHCR.
Zimbabwe is a refugee host country, providing shelter and safe haven for some 16 000 refugees, primarily accommodated at the Tongogara Refugee Centre in eastern Zimbabwe.
Acknowledging Zimbabwe’s host government’s obligations to provide care and protection to those who have entered the country as refugees and/or asylum-seekers, Minister Mavima detailed the efforts being made to fulfil those obligations. Such efforts include promoting and diversifying self-reliant agricultural and entrepreneurial SME projects in order to build resilience; the inclusion of refugees and asylum-seekers in national sports and cultural programmes, and expanding existing educational facilities available at the Centre.
Stressing Zimbabwe’s commitment to continuing working with UNHCR, IOM and other UN Agencies in these endeavours, the Minister lamented the continued imposition of western sanctions, observing that, “they (sanctions) have decimated economic performance, aggravated humanitarian-related challenges, and have adversely impacted access to basic rights for Zimbabwean residents, including refugees”.
Responding to the Minister’s statement, High Commissioner Fillippo Grandi commented that the UNHCR was a “non-political forum”, but acknowledged that, for Zimbabwe and a significant number of other countries, the imposition of economic sanctions was an important issue. He said that the use of such punitive measures, anywhere, should never impede humanitarian activities, nor the delivery of humanitarian assistance and support, nor should it undermine the capacity of host countries to fulfil their international obligations in terms of protection of refugees, asylum-seekers and displaced persons more generally.
Earlier in the day, Minister Mavima paid a courtesy call on Dr Gilbert Houngbo, the newly-inaugurated Director-General of the International Labour Organisation (ILO), at the Organisation’s Geneva headquarters.
Dr Houngbo, the first African to head the ILO, took up his appointment on 1 October, 2022.
Minister Mavima and the Director General reviewed the ongoing excellent cooperation between Zimbabwe and the ILO, including the findings of the recently-concluded Direct Contacts Mission which visited the country in April.
Minister Mavima updated the Director General on progress being made in respect of aligning labour-related legislation to the 2013 Constitution as well as progress towards the appointment of an Executive Director for the Tri-partite Negotiating Forum (TNF) and the operationalisation of the TNF Secretariat. The Minister also briefed the DG on progress being made in bringing the National Employment Policy in line with international trends.
Dr Houngbo welcomed the updates provided by the Minister, observed that the ILO had an active portfolio of cooperation projects and programmes with Zimbabwe and that he looked forward to further enhancing the existing excellent partnership between the two.
In the evening, Minister Mavima was a guest at the UNHCR’s 2022 Nansen Refugee Award Ceremony, where the former Federal Chancellor of Germany, Dr Angela Merkel, was presented with the award as the 2022 Global Laureate.
In his citation prior to bestowing the award on Dr Merkel, High Commissioner Grandi praised her for her “leadership, courage and compassion” – with specific reference to the 2015/2016 decision, taken under her leadership, for more than 1 million, mainly Syrian refugees, to be received in Germany and, over time, integrated into society by way of education and training programmes and targeted employment schemes.
Later this week, Minister Mavima will hold a bilateral meeting with High Commissioner Grandi and Assistant High Commissioner (Protection) Gillian Triggs. Ms Triggs, a former Head of the Australian Human Rights Commission, visited Zimbabwe in January 2022.
The Minister is also scheduled to meet with Antonio Vittorini, Director-General of the International Organisation for Migration (IOM).