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Zim protest 'was very helpful'

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image Zimbabwe refugees in South Africa

Protest by Zimbabwean refugees at the Home Affairs office in Durban on Friday ended in a meeting with department officials.

"The meeting between the two parties was held in a cordial atmosphere and was very constructive," said Home Affairs spokesperson Ronnie Mamoepa in a statement.

"Leaders of the picketers were given an opportunity to present their grievances to the regional management of Home Affairs."

The protest was organised by Zimbabwean political party Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).

MDC regional spokesperson Shepard Zvavanhu told Sapa: "The meeting was very helpful and we came to a mutual understanding."

According to Mamoepa: "The meeting agreed to establish a mechanism to allow for an ongoing interaction between home affairs department and representatives of the Zimbabwean nationals."

The MDC was protesting "apparent segregation" at the department and conditions inside the office. It also wanted the process for granting asylum to be speeded up.

Zvavanhu said the MDC called for the picket because refugees were getting sick while waiting in long queues outside the Durban offices. Refugees were going for days without drinking water or eating food.

"The home affairs department does not allow them to use water inside the building and there is no running water outside, and people are there for about three to four days, queueing in lines. At night, there are over 400 people in a queue."

"The refugees have no resources. We help each other out at times. Women and children standing there are going hungry and are dehydrated."

The party was distressed to find that some refugees had even collapsed in the queues. The asylum seekers did not have access to toilets and were forced to urinate in an open site, which was "humiliating and unhygienic".

"The department takes far too long to issue asylum papers and that needs to change," Zvavanhu said.

Mamoepa hoped that the "mechanism" put into place between the department and Zimbabweans would foster positive relations between the two parties.

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