The July 11 editorial "Sipping Tea in Africa" correctly criticized South Africa for failing to do more to prevent the destruction of Zimbabwe.

South Africa also is failing to protect people fleeing political persecution in Zimbabwe.

On a recent mission to Zimbabwe and South Africa, Refugees International found that South Africa is denying access to political asylum to thousands of Zimbabweans seeking to escape persecution. Of the 5,000 applications filed by Zimbabweans to date, fewer than 20 Zimbabweans have received political asylum in South Africa.

The closest office of South Africa's Department of Home Affairs, which handles immigration matters, is five hours from the Zimbabwean border. It has been moved and closed repeatedly since October 2003. Department staff ask for bribes to provide letters to set up an appointment to present asylum claims. Police abuse asylum seekers as they wait in interminable lines hoping for a hearing.

South African treatment of Zimbabwean asylum seekers is ironic in light of the safe haven that Zimbabwe provided to South Africans during the freedom struggle. While not all Zimbabweans merit political asylum, they deserve a chance to present their case.

South Africa must not let solidarity with Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe or fear of the influx of economic migrants prevent it from living up to its obligations under international refugee law.



Refugees International