Analysis of Displaced Farm Workers - summary

Analysis of the Situation of Displaced Farm Workers in Zimbabwe

A report by Refugees International
August 13, 2004

Executive Summary

Zimbabwe’s Fast Track Land Reform Program and politically-motivated intimidation and harassment have created an internally displaced population of more than 150,000 former farm workers and have also caused thousands of Zimbabweans to flee their country. The Government of Zimbabwe refuses to acknowledge that their implementation of the land redistribution program has caused forced displacement. To further compound the issue, governmental authorities have increasingly restricted access to farming areas for humanitarian agencies and independent analysts making it difficult for the displaced and other vulnerable groups to access humanitarian assistance.

During an assessment mission to Zimbabwe conducted in June 2004, Refugees International was able to document incidents of targeted violence against former workers, such as the destruction of homes and wells, the latter resulting in the deaths of children due to diarrheal diseases contracted from drinking unclean water. RI also found displaced populations effectively abandoned due to Government of Zimbabwe prevention of assistance efforts by international agencies and local non-governmental organizations.

Many of the commercial farms that were marked for acquisition under the Fast Track Land reform were seized violently. However, not all of the former farm workers have been displaced due to violent eviction. Displacement is also due to economic conditions on the former commercial farms.

Within the former farm workers, there are five groups:

• People internally “trapped,” who are unable to leave their farms;
• People displaced temporarily to forested or uncultivated areas;
• Returnees to communal areas;
• Peri-urban squatters;
• Refugees and economic migrants.

Within these groups, foreign workers are particularly at risk.

In addition, there are other vulnerable groups that are not necessarily displaced and not specifically former farm workers, but who are also being denied services and are in need of assistance. These include some new settlers, orphan-headed households and households without an able-bodied adult.

A considerable portion of the former farm worker population is in urgent need of humanitarian assistance. Many have little or no access to food, shelter, medical care, clean water, sanitation services, and education. While international and national humanitarian agencies are willing and able to provide assistance, national and local authorities are actively closing down any avenues of access to this vulnerable population. The best way to rebuild trust between the government of Zimbabwe and the humanitarian community is for all actors involved to focus and adhere to humanitarian principles such as neutrality, impartiality, and non-discrimination while working in coordination to provide assistance on the basis of need. 


Refugees International recommends that:

The Government of Zimbabwe

• Acknowledge that former farm workers are increasingly vulnerable and take steps to meet their basic needs, including allowing humanitarian agencies to provide direct assistance to them.

• Form mixed needs assessment teams with local NGOs to conduct visits and ascertain the exact levels of vulnerability of groups living in the former commercial farming areas.

• Provide access to land to those former farm workers that, due to unemployment and increasing destitution, are unable to meet their subsistence needs.

• Invest in skills training and education for those farm workers who have not been retained in the commercial agriculture sector in order to allow redeployment to other economic sectors.

• Improve living conditions in squatter camps and informal settlements that host considerable numbers of former farm workers. When available, land should be allocated to them and basic community services should be upgraded.

The Government of Zimbabwe and the United Nations:

• Jointly undertake a comprehensive vulnerability assessment in the commercial farming areas, rural communal lands and informal settlement. Due to the distrust between the Government of Zimbabwe and the United Nations, it is also recommended that a neutral party agreed upon by both should be included in the process of forming the assessment teams.

• Devise and implement a plan of action to strengthen vital community services, such as health clinics, water points and primary education facilities in areas affected by incoming groups of former farm workers.

The Donor Community:

• Devote greater financial resources to the former commercial farm areas to address humanitarian needs. These resources should be allocated based exclusively on degree of vulnerability of beneficiaries.


Full report printed on website:,,RI,,ZWE,,47a6eb9e0,0.html