Refugees appear in SA court
The group, including people from Somalia, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Burundi and Zimbabwe among other countries, had been living by the roadside outside the Lindela detention centre for about a week, after being transferred from a shelter for xenophobia victims in Glenanda, Johannesburg.
The refugees refused to register at the Glenanda camp fearing that the temporary identity cards they would be given would cancel their existing immigration rights as refugees and asylum seekers.
Some of the immigrants said they stayed on the side of the road because they were afraid to return to their communities and instead preferred to be repatriated to their home countries.
Home Affairs officials decided to house the immigrants at Glenanda for their protection, after a spate of attacks on foreign nationals in South Africa in May resulted in 60 deaths and thousands of foreigners returning to their home countries.
The case against the refugees was postponed until August 6, and the refugees would stay in police cells until their next court appearance.
Government officials said they had realised many of the immigrants had legal refugee and asylum status, and they could therefore not deport them to their home countries, despite some of them having been willing to be deported.
“We are ready to be deported back to our home countries,” a man from the DRC, who would only give his name as John John told reporters.
He said when the migrants left the Glenanda shelter, they did so because they thought they would immediately be sent back to their home countries.
However, after arriving at the Lindela detention centre, they were made to stay in cells, which many of them refused to do.
“We are not criminals. We have got our papers. Your government doesn’t have the right to arrest and put us in Lindela,” John John said.
The South African arm of global advocacy group Lawyers for Human Rights last week called on the government not to deport the refugees and asylum seekers.
Spokesperson Jacob van Garderen said South Africa was violating international refugee laws by deporting the foreigners.
“Valid asylum seekers and refugees should be released immediately,” van Garderen said.
“If they are deported, this contravenes the law that does not allow for their detention unless they have contravened the conditions of their permits,” he added.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said a week ago South Africa had sent about 17 000 Zimbabweans home through the Beitbridge border post in the 40 days to July 11.
The deportations were in spite of a specific request by the UNHCR for the South African government to hold off on deportations until the dust had settled on xenophobic attacks in South Africa.
According to the UNHCR and other advocacy groups, South Africa is signatory to domestic and international legal obligations to not return people to danger or possible persecution.