SA keeps up pressure with deportations

BRUSHING aside criticism of its decision to resume deporting illegal Zimbabwean immigrants, South Africa disgorged 118 more people at Beitbridge between Wednesday and Thursday this week.

Human rights groups have accused South African Home Affairs officials of misleading parliament over the removals which started on Wednesday last week, ending a moratorium which has been in place since May 2009.

Francis Mabika, the assistant regional immigration manager in charge of compliance and reinforcement at Beitbridge, told reporters on Thursday that 749 people had so far been deported.

“Many of them are simply paying smugglers and going back to South Africa after we have processed and released them,� Mabika said.

The South Africa-Zimbabwe border is notoriously porous. Thousands enter Zimbabwe’s southern neighbour at undesignated entry points every year, while others simply pay their way for passage, helped by corrupt immigration officials.

South African ministers estimate that there is up of 1,5 million Zimbabweans – most of them undocumented — living in their country, which forced them into a policy rethink in 2009.

In a bid to impose tighter controls on people entering its borders, South Africa offered Zimbabweans work permits if they applied by December 31 last year, while those who had obtained fake documents were allowed to trade them in for legitimate permits without incurring any penalties.

Although South African officials say all applications had been processed by the end of August, refugee groups say some Home Affairs wonks told Parliament as late as September 20 that they were still going through the backlog.

The Zimbabwe Exiles Forum and People Against Suffering Oppression and Poverty  (PASSOP) said on Monday that the moratorium on deportations “was introduced on the realisation that it was not tenable to forcibly return Zimbabweans because of the socio-economic and political environment prevailing there.�

In a statement, the two groups added: “This environment has since not been adequately resolved; therefore our position is that it is ill-advised and premature to recommence deportations at this time.

“Both civil society organisations and the Zimbabwean government are not in a position to deal with the large human rights and humanitarian costs that the resumption of deportations brings about.�

But Home Affairs spokesman Ronnie Mamoepa said Zimbabweans had been given enough time to regularise their stay, and those who had failed to do so were not entitled to protection.

He added: “Those Zimbabweans living in South Africa and (who) had applied for the regularisation of their stay through the Zimbabwean documentation project have nothing to fear.

“However, those who did not take advantage of the regularisation project, including those who continue to undermine South Africa’s immigration laws by entering the country illegally, cannot claim protection.�

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