Thursday, 6 October 2011

South Africa begins removing Zim refugees: report

Freedom of speech in South Africa (or not?)Image by Sokwanele - Zimbabwe via Flickr
By Paul Canning

The South African government has denied that it has started removing Zimbabwean refugees but the South African refugee group PASSOP says "we are now convinced that the Department of Home Affairs has lifted South Africa’s moratorium on deporting Zimbabweans."

The Zimbabwe Herald newspaper 4 October quoted Beitbridge assistant regional Immigration Officer Tamari Shadaya as saying that:
“We received a memo from the South African Home Affairs Department on Thursday last week notifying us of their plans to deport undocumented Zimbabweans.”
Shadaya also reportedly said that “deportations will commence with immediate effect, though we are yet to receive any repatriates from that country.”

PASSOP has exposed abuse of asylum seekers at refugee reception centers compromising their right to apply for refugee status. They also say that any deportations are in direct contradiction to the recent undertakings made by the Department of Home Affair’s Director General, Mkuseli Apleni, while addressing the Parliamentary Portfolio committee for Home Affairs. Apleni said that the government would not embark on deportations of Zimbabweans until the Zimbabwean Documentation Project has been completed, appeals reviewed and the minister approved deportations.

About 275 000 applications for permits were received under the project and South Africa has insisted it will lift a moratorium on Zim deportations when the process is complete.

Passop say that it will now be impossible to clarify how many people are in South Africa:
"It is obvious that sadly many immigrants in South Africa will ‘go underground’ into hiding and be unwilling to open doors to officials conducting the census."

"The number of immigrants living in South Africa has been subject to much speculation. In particular the number of Zimbabweans has been a hotly contested: while the Department has claimed that the vast majority had been documented in the recent Zimbabwean Documentation Project, many civil society organizations, including the IOM, IDASA House and Human Rights Watch have claimed that there could be as many as 1.5 million Zimbabweans in South Africa."

"This latest move will continue to obscure the actual number of Zimbabweans living in South Africa. South Africa will have to keep depending on deportation numbers and estimates hence forth, as surely undocumented Zimbabweans will not answer doors to be counted and will do everything they can to avoid arrest and deportation."
PASSOP fears that deportations will stoke xenophobia and “Afrophobic” tensions and raised the possibility of communities “witch hunting”, with neighbors turning on their neighbors, South Africans turning on fellow Africans.
"We believe that deportation is an Apartheid tendency," they say, "and that deportations of fellow Africans is un-African."
Gabriel Shumba from the Zimbabwe Exiles Forum told SW Radio Africa 4 October that deportations are a bad idea, saying “the political situation (in Zimbabwe) has not yet changed enough to accommodate forced returns.”

“We don’t think Zimbabwe is in a situation that can be called ‘stable’. There is another election on the cards and we believe violence is very likely,” PASSOP’s Braam Hanekom said.

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