Currently Zimbabwean prisons are holding 548 undocumented Malawians were apprehended by Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) on charges of illegal entry and failure to produce a valid passport.
Government critics say immigration detainees should be held in designated immigration detention centres, rather than prisons.
Ministry of foreign affairs spokesperson Livit Mugejo told TimesLIVE the Malawians were not prisoners and had not been convicted of any crimes.
“Those are not prisoners, they were only intercepted and found with inadequate papers. The embassy of Malawi is processing their papers for them to go back to Malawi. Once their papers are ready, they are going to be assisted on their way back to Malawi.
“They are just kept [in prison] waiting for their papers. They were not convicted of any crime or are not waiting for any trial. Hence, we are not treating them as prisoners,” said Mugejo.
Zimbabwe’s prisons are overcrowded, unsanitary and lack basic amenities like running water. The prisons, with a capacity of 17,000, have a population of 22,000.
Recently, 148 other Malawian nationals were arrested for travelling without valid documents and sentenced to between four and six months in prison while awaiting deportation.
They were arrested en route to Beitbridge intending to cross into SA.
Malawi has since sought help from international institutions such as the International Migration Organisation (IOM) to facilitate the return of its citizens.
IOM Zimbabwe spokesperson Fadzai Nyamande-Pangeti confirmed that the organisation was considering the request from the Malawian government.
“We are supporting the government (of Zimbabwe) through the provision of varied logistical support as we always do where funding is available,” Nyamande-Pangeti said.
“We cannot provide any other details on the progress of this operation or how long these Malawian nationals have been in Zimbabwe.