May 29 2013 at 09:27am
By Braam Hanekom
Cape Town – While the Department of Home Affairs’ refugee centre in Cape Town continues to refuse to accept first-time applications for refugee status, and while the centre has been in such chaos – with police dispersing huge crowds of vulnerable asylum seekers who are trying to get documented – the same department’s immigration officials have embarked on large immigration raids.
Is this an indication that the department has prioritised deportation over service delivery? I cannot understand how the department thinks that deportation of people to Zimbabwe or other SADC countries will achieve anything; we might as well be flushing taxpayers’ money down the toilet – or, rather, spending it on toilets.
Experience tells me that when we force people to leave South Africa, we can expect them back in two weeks. The numerous Sotho deported from Ceres and De Doorns are back, the Zimbabweans who were detained in Kuruman and deported have also returned. In fact I have met people who claim to have been deported more than a dozen times.
The huge irony is that the department does not assist ill, unemployed, depressed, sick, elderly or homesick immigrants who want to return to, and live in, their home countries. Deportation seems to be such an important issue, so much so that planes are chartered to deport Congolese, and buses are hired with very little red tape.
I have been told the department pays more than R50 000 per trip for a bus from Pollsmoor to Lindela. These large sums of money achieve nothing; we would be spending money more wiser if we paid R50 000 per trip to deliver textbooks.
The ultimate consequence of deportation could only be to channel profits to certain companies, to gain populist anti-immigrant support or to pretend to be controlling immigration. In reality, to try to control immigration by means of deportation is like trying to cure an illness by taking painkillers.
I must add that it is a common misconception that the people being deported are hardened criminals. The department can confirm that criminals who are guilty of any serious crime are sentenced and serve their time before being deported, so it is not true that the people being deported are drug dealers, thieves, fraudsters or rapists.
The dangers of conducting immigration raids in communities or public spaces are much more serious since these raids fuel xenophobia. Deportation, by its very nature, is divisive, involving detaining and extracting immigrants from public areas. It is logical that the deportation of more than 200 000 people in the months that preceded the May 2008 xenophobic violence involved a very similar process to the door-to-door displacement of immigrants.
What are we teaching our people if police and immigration officials expect every immigrant to either always carry a document, or face public humiliation?
How do the police and Home Affairs claim to know who is an immigrant? The department is essentially forcing all South Africans to carry their identity documents everywhere or risk arrest and humiliation.
We have many tourists and exchange students in South Africa, especially in Cape Town. Do we need to tell every tourist who enters South Africa that they must carry their passports, that when they go to Robben Island, the Slave lodge or the District Six Museum, they must carry their passports in case a policeman or immigration official swoops on them?
Clearly, if we want to influence migration we need to focus on the factors that lead people to leave their countries for South Africa in order to survive. Borders need to be tightened and, as the minister of home affairs has suggested, a work seeker’s permit for citizens of SADC countries should be introduced to enable controlled migration.
We need to continue to work on stabilising the region, supporting peace and stability in Africa and encouraging economic growth in our neighbouring countries. We need to send more humanitarian aid to countries facing famine or drought and we need to help fix the political problems that lead to instability, conflict and ultimately forced migration in otherwise stable communities.
South Africa is the superpower of Africa and we have a responsibility to actively promote and help smaller African countries when they are facing serious challenges.
We need to have a continental approach and, with Nkosazana Dlamani-Zuma chairing the African Union (AU), we are in by far the best position to do this. We could make a sizeable contribution to the AU, rather than spending so much on deportation.
The Department of Home Affairs must clarify how it decide who to ask for documents, and also clarify how much the arrest, detention and deportation of each Zimbabwean, Congolese and Sotho person costs from Cape Town. The department must clarify whether every single South African must, at all times, have their ID books on them or face harassment and arrest. The department must also clarify whether tourists must carry their passports with them wherever they go, and must explain to all tourists entering South Africa that not even certified copies of tourists’ passports and visas will be accepted.
We need the department to be accountable and transparent. We cannot have laws that are selectively implemented, and nor can we all live at the mercy of immigration officials who can detain any one of us under “suspicion of being an undocumented immigrant”.
* Braam Hanekom is the founder of People Against Suffering, Oppression and Poverty (Passop).