News / National
South Africa 'secretly deporting Zimbabweans'
22 Jun 2016 at 07:24hrs | Views
Asylum seekers The Citizen spoke to said 'it seems to be up to your luck if you get asked to go to the "deportation room"'.
According to two Malawian brothers who have been living in South Africa for more than 10 years, home affairs is "'randomly deporting" Malawians and Zimbabweans, and perhaps people of other nationalities too.
One of the brothers, Andy (not his real name), told The Citizen how, earlier this month, he and his brother went to the home affairs offices at the showgrounds in Pretoria to have their asylum-seeker papers stamped to allow them to live and work in South Africa legally for another three months. He claimed that he was then "sent into a different room than my brother. He got his papers stamped, but I was asked to wait in this other room; it was me and some other guys, about 15 of us. Our names were called from behind a section. They said 'just sign these papers', and we signed before we could read what was going on there. It was something like a letter and it was in my folder with all my papers from, like, 2010.
"We were told to wait. I wanted to know what was happening, so I walked out of the room and found an official, another woman, sitting somewhere else.
"I asked her: 'What is going on? Why are we waiting in that room?'
"She said: 'Oh, you are in that room? That means you are going to be arrested and they are going to deport you. If I was you, I would run away.'
"'But they still have my papers.'
"'It's up to you, but you are better off just going.'
"That's what I did. I just left quietly and the other guys in that room saw me leaving too and also decided to leave. They knew something was wrong.
Andy is now living in South Africa as an undocumented migrant and says he will rather take his chances with getting arrested.
"There's no way I'm going to go back to home affairs. Going there was not worth it. My brother and I got our asylum papers in 2006 and went back every month, two months, three months to get them stamped. You have to get up early, pay taxi fare from Joburg to Pretoria, and then wait in long queues. But there's not enough benefit. Some days they can't even help you and tell you to come back the next day. That's another day that you can't work."
Andy says he's a qualified electrical technician and works for a small company in Joburg. He says his brother will continue to have his papers stamped in Pretoria for as long as they keep doing it, but that if he gets asked to go to "the other room, then he'll know what to do. He'll have to run."
He adds: "We got those papers because we thought there would be an amnesty. We thought amnesty was coming. But you keep having to wait, and just keep getting your stamps. Every time you go, you wonder if you will be stamped again or they will tell you that you are rejected. Then you get deported.
"We are integrated into South Africa now. There's nothing for me in Malawi after all these years. Now without that paperwork, I can't go to the bank, I can't do anything official. It's a disgusting situation. For 10 years they'll take your fingerprints and photos, only to reject you.
Another Malawian The Citizen spoke to, Patrick (also not his real name), said he knew the situation of his "homeboys" Andy and his brother.
"That's what happened, yes. I thought they were both going to be given their days, but the one brother got three months and the other one went into that other room with the other guys. He's lucky that woman told him to run, but they had to leave their papers. That was not cool. They told me that home affairs is now deporting us secretly."
Patrick, who works for a plumbing company in Johannesburg, said the incident had happened in the middle of May.
"It's because they want to reduce the numbers of foreigners. They're trying to get rid of some of the old ones. They send them home, but they just come back again. There's no war in Malawi, so you get told that you can't be an asylum seeker any more. The same thing is happening with Zimbabweans. The UN doesn't know this is happening.
"To the SA government, Malawi and Zimbabwe are safe, but there are no jobs there. My whole family relies on me, on what I send home. I think government is trying to 'create jobs' by sending foreigners home, hoping South Africans will then do those jobs."
Patrick explained that, the way he understood it, the modus operandi of how deportations happened had changed over the years.
"Before, years ago, they would send you home on the aeroplane. Then they ran out of money and started to put people on the bus. Then [Zimbabwean President] Robert Mugabe said, 'You can't be using my roads to deport my African brothers and sisters,' and he stopped those buses. So now they arrest you and, after three weeks they send you to Lindela [repatriation centre]. You can be kept there for four months, and then they will just release you with a transit paper to get out of the country on your own in 21 days – or they will arrest you again. They just tell you to make your own way.
"Lindela is bad. You can die there. You can get pneumonia. Even if you make it, when you get back to Malawi, you're sick, you've got TB. The only way to get out of Lindela before the 120 days are up is if you or your brothers buy a plane ticket for you. They will drive you to OR Tambo [Airport] and put you on that plane. Otherwise you are stuck at Lindela for the whole four months. After they release you and your 21 days expires, you can go through all of that again if they catch you again without papers.
"It's crazy. I've never been there [to Lindela], but I know it's bad. It's just luck now if this is what happens to you. There's no system. Those brothers have the same story, but one was getting deported, the other one could stay? Why? They are deporting us secretly."
When The Citizen called refugee advocate group Passop, the NGO's director, Bernard Toyambi, explained that he had heard similar stories before but could not say whether anyone was being "secretly deported".
"It's not a secret. That guy probably just received his final rejection letter. After more than 10 years, they just rejected him."
He explained that, by law, undocumented migrants could only be held at Lindela for 120 days, after which they would have to be deported or released.
"If you can buy a bus or plane ticket, that's the only way to get out of there earlier. They call it early deportation. If you wait for the state, they will take a long time."
He advised people like Andy and Patrick to approach a lawyer, preferably through the Legal Resources Centre, in the event that they felt their rights were being infringed.
"That's the only way they'll be able to challenge an illegal deportation, if it's illegal. If they've been at Lindela for more than four months, their documentation needs to be submitted again.
"The law needs to be reviewed because it's difficult to expect someone to make their own way home when they've got nothing."
He said the problem with people from non-conflict zones such as Malawi and Zimbabwe was that they could not expect to get asylum and permanent residency would also prove difficult, regardless of how many years they'd lived in South Africa.
"The Malawians are economic refugees. The best thing is to work through their employer, if they have a job. Go back to Malawi, apply for a work permit and get the employer to process the papers. But employers don't like to do it. It's a lot of admin. But it's still the best way."
When called for comment, home affairs' spokesperson, Mayihlomo Tshwete, asked for the actual names of the people involved to determine why anyone was "being deported". When told that it was a general query about whether home affairs is randomly deporting foreigners, he said "my brother, there is no such policy".
South Africa is hosting more asylum seekers than any other country in the world by the end of 2015, according to a report released by UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency.
"South Africa has, by a large margin, the highest reported number of applications pending at any stage of the asylum procedure," according to the report that was released on World Refugee Day, observed yesterday.
"The number of asylum seekers at the end of 2014 in South Africa is now estimated to be 1 057 600," according to the report. The next highest was Germany, at 420 600.
Source - The Citizen