BACKGROUND: Zimbabweans are immigrating to South Africa with a commonly cited reason being economic opportunities. Prospects of finding employment may be a significant reason to leave behind family, friends, and community, sources that buffer and offer social support against life’s challenges. Currently, there is a dearth of research examining the motivators for Zimbabweans immigrating and the experiences encountered along the way and after arrival in South Africa. Such research is essential as large numbers of Zimbabweans may be at risk for emotional and physical trauma during this process. METHODS: Two gender specific focus group discussions, each lasting 90-minutes and consisting of homeless Zimbabwean refugees, were conducted in the Limpopo Province of South Africa. A semi-structured interview assessed for experiences in and reasons for leaving Zimbabwe, as well as experiences en-route and within South Africa. Discussions were audio-recorded, transcribed, and analyzed using consensual qualitative research and a constant comparison qualitative method. RESULTS: Three temporal themes were identified and included challenges and trauma experienced in Zimbabwe (pre-migration), during the immigration journey (mid-migration), and upon arrival in South Africa (post-migration). While there were some experiential differences, Zimbabwean men and women shared numerous traumatic commonalities. In addition to the themes, three subthemes contributing to reasons for leaving Zimbabwe, two subthemes of negative and traumatic experiences incurred mid-migration, and two post-migration subthemes of challenges were identified. CONCLUSIONS: Despite the difficulties encountered in their homeland, newly arrived Zimbabweans in South Africa may be exchanging old struggles for a new array of foreign and traumatic challenges. Reasons to immigrate and the psychological and physical toll of migration exacted at the individual and community levels are discussed. Recommendations advocating for culturally congruent mental health research, the training of culturally competent researchers and clinicians, and the development of policies that could influence the quality of life of Zimbabwean refugees are provided.
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