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The Catholic Church in Southern Africa is readying itself for a possible refugee crisis should violence erupt in Zimbabwe after the elections on Saturday, which analysts predicted would be flawed.
The Refugee Office of the Southern African Catholic Bishops Conference, the Catholic Relief Services, the Jesuit Refugee Service and other church charities have been meeting over the past few months to consider the Church,s response to a possible new refugee influx from Zimbabwe.
From Sunday March 16 to Tuesday March 18, a church delegation visited the north of Limpopo Province of South Africa, on the border with Zimbabwe to inspect some facilities which could be used as reception centres in the event of an influx.
The Catholic Healthcare Association (CATHCA) was asked to try to find medical personnel who could be released for three to five days in an emergency.
The International Crisis Group warned in its latest report that a flawed election in Zimbabwe could spark a violent crisis. President Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe's only ruler since independence 28 years ago, is fighting his keenest challenge as he seeks another term at the age of 84.
On Wednesday, the global human rights organisation, Amnesty International, said that the right to freedom of expression, association and assembly are being unnecessarily restricted ahead of the poll.
"Although opposition parties appear to be enjoying a greater degree of access to previously no go areas, in rural areas compared with previous elections, we continue to receive reports of intimidation, harassment and violence against perceived supporters of opposition candidates with many in rural regions fearful that there will be retribution after the elections, said Simeon Mawanza, Amnesty's Zimbabwe researcher.