Surge in Australian Home Affairs corruption referrals a ‘sign of maturity’, gov claims

According to the watchdog that oversees the Department of Home Affairs, the marked increase in reported corruption is a massive boon.
The federal law enforcement watchdog has asserted that an increase in corruption referrals regarding the Department of Home Affairs doesn’t indicate a rise in dishonest conduct, but rather displays a “growing maturity” within the ministry’s “integrity arrangements”.
The Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity (ACLEI) Commissioner’s annual report 2019-20 outlines that over the 12 month period covered, it received 172 notifications about potential corruption issues, which was a marked increase compared with recent years.
And of these, 167 corruption notifications were related to Home Affairs and its related bodies. One hundred were to do with the department directly, 63 were in regard to the Australian Federal Police (AFP), and four related to the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission (ACIC).
The ACLEI went on to launch investigations into 11 of these matters, with six of them directly involving Home Affairs.
And over the year 2019-20, five prosecutions that arose as a result of ACLEI investigations were finalised. Three of these involved the Australian Border Force (ABF) officers, while the other two involved civilians.
Policing the police
The federal law enforcement watchdog was established via the Law Enforcement Integrity Commissioner Act 2006 (Cth). The minister responsible for the statutory body is the Australian attorney general, currently Christian Porter.
“Detect, investigate and prevent corruption in prescribed law enforcement agencies” and “assist law enforcement agencies to maintain and improve the integrity of staff members,” is the mandate the ACLEI is charged with.
At present, the ACLEI has jurisdiction over the ACIC, the AFP, including ACT Policing, the Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre (AUSTRAC), Home Affairs, including the ABF, as well as prescribed parts of the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment.
The heads of these agencies are required to notify the Integrity Commissioner of any corruption issues. And information regarding corrupt behaviour can also come from the general public, the attorney general, and other government agencies.

Increasing maturity
“Overall, we consider that the increase in notifications represents the growing maturity of the department’s integrity arrangements,” the report authors conclude. “There does not appear to be any substantive change in the areas of Home Affairs in which corruption issues arise.”
The factors the watchdog goes on to list as reasons for the increase are a greater awareness of the need to stamp out such conduct, a recent rise in the number of staff falling under the ACLEI’s reach, as well as some just identified historical issues.

A question of corruption
One of the five prosecutions that came to a close over this year was Operation Valadon. Commencing in June 2017, it concerned the conduct of former Australian Border Force commissioner Roman Quaedvlieg.
The investigation considered eight allegations that Quaedvlieg’s conduct fell outside of his oath of office and could amount to corruption. The assertions revolved around the former ABF commissioner assisting his girlfriend, Sarah Rogers, in gaining employment with the department.
The former Integrity Commissioner made three findings of corrupt conduct against Quaedvlieg, however, no charges were laid due to insufficient burden of proof.
The former ABF boss has gone on to label the ACLEI’s investigation as “deeply flawed”.
Ms Rogers was found to have given false testimony during the investigation into her partner’s conduct. And in July last year, she pleaded guilty to the offence at the Downing Centre, where she was sentenced to a 7-month intensive corrections order and 100 hours community service.

A toothless watchdog
The Morrison government last week released its draft legislation relating to the establishment of a Commonwealth Integrity Commission (CIC). This anti corruption body will have the power to investigate the Commonwealth public service and it will subsume the ACLEI.
As part of this process, the ACLEI is to cover four new agencies – including the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) and the Australian Tax Office (ATO) – from next January, while receiving an extra $9.9 million in funding and 38 additional staff members.
However, critics of the CIC are raising questions as to why the government’s proposed new watchdog will be holding hearings for law enforcement agencies in public, while those involving politicians will be held behind closed doors.
Why “should law enforcement officers, of whom the attorney general is the notional head, be held to a higher and different standard than the attorney general himself”? Sydney barrister Geoffrey Watson has asked.
“Why do politicians get special protection?”

Stranded Overseas, Thousands Beg Australia to Let Them Come Home

Limits on the number of Australians who can return have spurred a growing uproar over the country’s hard-line approach to the coronavirus.
Kingsford Smith International Airport in Sydney. Australia is one of the few places in the world that is barring citizens from leaving their own country and limiting the number of those who can return.
DARWIN, Australia — Alison Richards, a 38-year-old graphic designer, had been living in Britain for five years when she decided to move home to Australia. Then she got sick with Covid-19 and lost her job.
“It was an awful experience,” said Ms. Richards, who spent six weeks without leaving her apartment, except for the night she became so ill she called an ambulance. “I thought, I’ll just pull myself through this and get home.”
She’s still waiting.
Ms. Richards is among tens of thousands of Australians stranded abroad because of government coronavirus restrictions that cap the number of people allowed on flights into the country. In mid-June, Ms. Richards booked a ticket to Sydney, but she has been bumped twice from her flight as a result of the caps.
Australia is one of the few places in the world that is barring citizens from leaving their own country and limiting the number of those who can return. The tough regulations have raised legal concerns about the right to freedom of movement, and have been especially painful for the large numbers of Australians who turn to travel as a balm against the tyranny of distance from the rest of the world.
“We wanted to take our kids out of the Australian bubble,” Daniel Tusia, 40, said of his family’s decision to travel internationally for a year. Mr. Tusia ended up spending $14,000 on business-class tickets to get his wife and their two children, one of whom has special needs, back to Australia after weeks of trying to get home.
“It never entered our mind before this point that Australia would actually physically and legally obstruct you from entering,” he said.
Scott Morrison, Australia’s prime minister, has framed the country’s hard-line approach as crucial to avoiding the kind of rampant spread of the virus experienced in countries that have travel restrictions that are looser or nonexistent, as in the United States.
“As an island continent, control of our borders has been a means by which we have kept Australians safe,” he wrote in a letter in August sent to those requesting consular assistance to return. He acknowledged that the measures were “frustrating,” but said they were necessary.

Australia has capped the number of people who can arrive at its airports each week.
But as many of those stranded abroad have become more publicly vocal about their plight, some opposition politicians have expressed more empathy. “These are people who have the right to come back to their country, because they are Australians,” Kristina Keneally, the Labor Party’s top official for home affairs, told Parliament in September.
Last week, under growing pressure, Mr. Morrison said the caps on passengers entering the country would be raised to 6,000 per week from 4,000. Those numbers, though, depend on cooperation from the states and their capacity to quarantine arrivals, and travel industry experts said they still fell far short of demand.
They encouraged Mr. Morrison to pursue alternatives like allowing people traveling from countries with low infection rates to self-isolate, instead of mandating quarantine in government-designated facilities. Similar programs have been successful in Hong Kong, Singapore and Qatar.
While the authorities estimate that there are more than 35,000 citizens who want to return home, the airline industry says that based on booking statistics, as well as figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the number is most likely closer to 100,000.
In the first week of September, more than 140 international flights with about 30,000 seats arrived in Australia, but only about 4,000 were filled. Often, business- and first-class seats are prioritized, meaning that only some can afford to come home.
Mohammad Khan, who has been stuck in Pakistan with his wife since March, said he was forced to buy business-class tickets after four of his economy tickets were canceled.
The couple could not afford the flights, but needed to return to Australia by December to ensure that Mr. Khan’s wife did not violate her visa requirements. So they sold their car in Australia. “We are in a miserable condition here, running out of money and time,” he said by email.
Emily Costello, 27, who began a job teaching English in South Korea last September, said there are just two flights to Australia before her visa expires, and they are both booked up.
She said she could not afford to return in March, when the pandemic began to escalate and Australia urged its citizens to come home. She has since finished her contract and has been couch surfing with a colleague while petitioning the Australian government for answers.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the travel restrictions were important to control the coronavirus.
“I’m not sleeping, I’m vomiting a lot because of the stress, my hands have started shaking,” said Ms. Costello, who suffers from depression and anxiety. “It shouldn’t be a lottery.”
Barry Abrams, the executive director of the Board of Airline Representatives of Australia, said that the travel caps had the punitive effect of leaving people out in the cold for decisions made during a period of extreme uncertainty.
“Australians have a high propensity to travel,” he said, adding: “Regardless of whether the person could have heeded the call, they are now in a very difficult situation. Is it really right not to have arrangements in place to bring them home?”
He added that it was not just the number of incoming passengers, but also those leaving the country, that needed to be expanded. Currently, Australians wanting to go abroad have to apply for exemptions, and many have been denied.
“I never in a million years thought I would be helping Australians to leave the country,” said Sonia Campanaro, a Melbourne immigration lawyer.
For those still stuck overseas, repatriation might be up to six months away. Some say they are considering a class-action suit against the federal government. Others have launched petitions and campaigns, including one through Amnesty International that asserts that leaving people stranded overseas is a breach of their human rights.
While it is true that international conventions ensure the right of people to return to their countries, the Australian government is not technically barring citizens from returning home, even if the airline caps are having that effect, law experts said.
Anyone bringing legal action against the government for stranding them would have to prove that the reasons for doing so were unjustified, they added.
For Ms. Richards, the graphic designer, her frustration at not being repatriated, especially when she followed government guidelines to remain in Britain until her illness passed, is building.
“I’m really, really angry,” she said. “All those people who say, ‘Oh, you should have come home sooner,’ I say, ‘Oh, would you have liked me to come home and infected an entire planeload of people?”
While contending with long-term complications of Covid-19, including heart palpitations and brain fog, Ms. Richards has written to numerous politicians pleading for assistance. She is currently booked on a flight out of London on Sunday, but is doubtful that it will go ahead, given the previous cancellations.
“It’s still confirmed, but I keep checking it every hour of every day,” Ms. Richards said. “Hopefully, I’ll be flying.”

Chakwera wants special permits for Malawians working in South Africa

President Lazarus Chakwera has called for the introduction of special permits for Malawians working in the informal sector in South Africa.
The Malawi leader made the request during a meeting with South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa and various members of his Cabinet in Pretoria.
SABC news site reported that the Malawi leader appealed for special permits for Malawian migrants employed in the informal sector in South Africa just as is the case for migrants from Zimbabwean and Lesotho.
“In the same vein, I would like to ask that Malawians be able to apply for new permits and renew expired ones while in South Africa as a reciprocal arrangement. More broadly I request your help in simplifying visa extension procedures,” said Chakwera.
The Malawi leader also asked the South African government to ease the issuance of medical visas to Malawian diplomatic passport holders.
Chakwera noted that this will do away with the current arrangement where diplomatic passport holders are required to obtain an ordinary visa before acquiring a medical visa.
During the meeting, Chakwera also expressed concern that Malawians are detained at Lindela Repatriation Centre for about 120 days before deportation.
He said: “Even if we say reduce it to 60 days it may be too many days as a first step towards the ultimate idea of seven days.”
Chakwera went to South Africa on Thursday and returned to Malawi on Friday.

Anxious wait for non-South African prisoners as Home Affairs take first step to ease parolee backlog

Following the move to Level 1 lockdown, prisoners who have been waiting since March to return to their home countries, have finally seen the first light of their long overdue release dates.
A mix of scepticism and fear colour the days after Home Affairs officials first visited South African prisons this month to commence the repatriation process of qualifying offenders.
On the other hand, South African prisoners are also affected by the backlog in the release of parolees as the process comes with many moving parts.
Over the course of three months, the Wits Justice project received numerous complaints from prisoners across the country. Many of these were parole-related and from non-South African prisoners who claim they have been held in prison past their release dates.
The Department of Correctional Services (DCS) charged the delay in repatriation of foreign nationals to lockdown restrictions limiting the executable duties of Home Affairs.
However, South Africa’s parole process had long been a complex one which included a dialogue between the victim and the perpetrator of a crime and at least one appearance before the parole board. Additionally, the national lockdown exacerbated the backlog in the already embattled process.
Months after President Cyril Ramaphosa announced the initial 21-daylockdown, foreign nationals who had been awaiting their release from South African prisons finally had their first call with Home Affairs officials in charge of the repatriation process. While the past eight months caused anxiety, anger and frustration, prisoners had taken the hope of recent developments with a little more than a pinch of salt.
Amos, A Zimbabwean national who asked to remain anonymous for fear of jeopardising his reputation said: We are waiting for Home Affairs to come [back on Tuesday] to give us feedback on whether they will take us to Lindela since they have done the first stage.
According to Amos, Home Affairs officials visited Witbank Correctional Services on 15 October to initiate the processing of foreign nationals due to be released on parole. However, Wits Justice Project (WJP) made several attempts to contact Home Affairs and had yet to receive a response confirming the account of events as reported by a number of incarcerated foreign nationals.
Lucias, an inmate at Modderbee Correctional Centre said the parole board indicated that he would be released on 26 March. However, nearly seven months after his release date, he remained behind bars without any indication of when he could expect to be released.
Not going anywhere
“Correctional Services said we are not going anywhere until Level 1 [of the lockdown]. Now Level 1 [has] come and they’re saying Home Affairs must come to take us to Lindela, but Home Affairs is doing nothing,” said Lucias, who spoke to WJP on condition of anonymity. “Everyday we see South Africans being released, but for us, we have been waiting for too long,” said Lucias.
He said: They tell us parole is a privilege not a right. It’s very sad because we have served our sentences and we were given release dates, but only South Africans get released.
The complaints lodged by prisoners came amid a series of grievances pertaining to overcrowding and poor implementation of Covid-19 safety measures.
On 8 May, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced that the Department of Correctional Services would release 19 000 low-risk offenders on early parole. Among this, as a means to reduce the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic in South Africa’s overcrowded prisons. Four months after the announcement, just over half of the qualifying parolees had been released.
A total of 16 514 inmates have been considered for placement thus far. Thus resulting in a total 12 044 inmates being paroled to date,” said DCS spokesperson, Singabakho Nxumalo. “Foreign nationals are deported back to their countries by Home Affairs after serving time. The process has been slow due to lockdown regulations. It is picking up now as borders are now open,” he added.
However, some Foreign nationals were still waiting for a visit from Home Affairs. Others who had had their first visit were growing despondent as the promise to repatriate them had been deferred without notice.”The Home Affairs [department] is the problem. They come and take people to court and instead of taking them to Lindela [for repatriation] they bring people back to prison,” said Lucias from Modderbee Prison.
Meanwhile, some prisoners expressed concern, saying overcrowding posed an even bigger risk to their health under the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. “We are not safe,” said Thapelo*. “I am concerned about our health more than anything.”
Thapelo, a South African prisoner, asked to remain anonymous for fear of consequences.
He said: There are even prisoners who are South African that are still waiting to be released on parole. Melusi*, a South African prisoner at Kgosi Mampuru, had served eight years of his 12 year sentence for robbery. Due for parole, Melusi was yet to participate in the Victim-Offender-Dialogue (VOD) in order to be paroled. The process was largely dependent on the victim’s willingness to participate.”It must be noted though that not all the victims of crime are keen on participating in the VOD sessions,” said Nxumalo.
“In such cases, we ask them to sign and acknowledge that they were approached and opted not to participate. This will mean that the inmate’s parole consideration by the Parole Board will not include the VOD element.” While waiting to be released on parole, Melusi contracted Covid-19. Melusi said: The said news is that we were never shown our results. We asked the nurses and they told us that we will get them as soon as they have them because the only thing they have is a list of people who are positive.Adding to this, Melusi said the isolation of inmates who may have been in contact with those diagnosed with Covid-19, had been less than satisfactory.
“Some people might not show symptoms, but they still need to be isolated because they might have the virus and spread it on to others in their cell.”DCS Deputy Commissioner of Communications, Logan Naidoo said it’s an unsubstantiated allegation. “As stated above, the department’s Covid-19 Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) and Guidelines are implemented in line with the Department of Health Protocols. In the event of any test being conducted, including Covid-19 testing for inmates, counselling is provided, the procedure is explained to the relevant inmate on an individual basis and the inmate is also informed of the expected date of receipt of the results.”

The closure of a Durban refugee reception centre has left asylum seekers in limbo

The Durban Refugee Reception Centre has been closed since March. (Photo: Nokulunga Majola)
The Durban Refugee Reception Centre has been closed since lockdown was instituted in March. Since then, the documentation of thousands of refugees and asylum seekers has expired.
The Coalition of the Poor has called on the Minister of Home Affairs to take urgent steps at refugee reception centres nationwide and place additional resources at their disposal so that visas can be renewed without further delay.
This comes after two immigrants alleged that police assaulted them in Durban on 16 October.
Azuri Muhuli, 24, and Bushambela Yakobo, 26, both from the DRC, say police assaulted them when they could not produce valid asylum seeker visas.
Muhuli’s had expired in July and he had not been able to renew it; Yakobo’s had been stolen, and he had not been able to renew it, but he had an affidavit to say so.
They say they were beaten, detained, insulted and then released without charge. They have reported the matter to the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID).
According to the Coalition statement, “there are tens of thousands of asylum seekers whose visas have expired during the lockdown. The assurance by the department of home affairs that expired permits are still valid clearly carries no weight if this de facto extension is not even recognised by SAPS.”
The organisation is calling on the minister of police to issue an assurance that SAPS is instructed not to victimise immigrants.
The Department of Home Affairs’ (DHA) refugee reception centre in Durban has been closed since the March Covid-19 lockdown.
“While DHA services have re-opened for South African nationals, the department’s failure to open services to foreign nationals is a clear example of discrimination… placing an unbearable burden on refugees and asylum seekers, many of whom have suffered through months of lockdown-related unemployment with no recourse to social relief,” said the Coalition.
Echoing the organisation’s sentiments, Daniel Byamungu Dunia, executive director of the Africa Solidarity Network (ASN), said Covid-19 has created more challenges for refugees.
Dunia said many refugees’ permits and asylum seekers’ visas have expired, including his.
“My refugee status and my passport are expired. The problem is that if you are carrying an expired visa, Durban metro police and the SAPS are arresting people right and left.
“We are faced with too much police brutality. They keep innocent refugees and asylum seekers in custody. As we speak, we have a high number of refugees and asylum seekers in custody due to expired documents,” said Dunia.
He said although the minister of home affairs had declared that permit visas are extended until 31 January 2021, this was not being respected.
Dunia said money is being frozen in their accounts by the banks; people with expired documents cannot access social grants and they cannot travel.
Yasmin Rajah, director of refugee social services at the Diakonia Centre in Durban, said children’s admission to schools was being made difficult because of expired documents.
She said even when the refugee centre was open, newly arrived asylum seekers had battled to get appointments because of lack of capacity: there were long queues and problems with systems, and most asylum seekers were being rejected.
Department of home affairs spokesperson David Hlabane said, “The refugee reception centres will remain closed until 31 January 2021, or until the Republic of South Africa declares them open.
“All stakeholders, refugees and asylum seekers will be notified when the refugee reception centres are declared open.”

Home Affairs deporting refugees part of Cape Town protests

The Home Affairs Department has reminded citizens that there are foreign nationals who are in the country legally and are allowed to conduct business in terms of the applicable laws of the country
The Department of Home Affairs has initiated the deportation process of 20 foreign nationals, who were part of hundreds others, who had camped outside the offices of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Cape Town, back in 2019.
“The deportation of these foreign nationals follows a successful law enforcement operation which was undertaken by the Department of Home Affairs’ Inspectorate officials, supported by SAPS, the City of Cape Town and the departments of Social Development and Health, at the temporary facility at Paint City in Bellville, Cape Town,” the department said in a statement on Friday, 6 November 2020.
The refugees had told government they either want to be allowed to go home or another country on the continent, as they had had enough of being on the receiving end of xenophobic attacks in South Africa.
The demonstrations quickly turned ugly and they ended up spending months on Greenmarket Square and occupying the Central Methodist Church until April 2020. Government then opted to move the refugees to a number of shelters and camps, after the country went under lockdown and measures had to be put in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
“The deportation of the 20 foreign nationals followed due process and was confirmed by the court on 02 and 03 November 2020 in terms of the immigration laws of the country. The affected foreign nationals have already been transferred to Lindela Repatriation Centre for deportation purposes,”
The Department of Home Affairs
Refugees not seeking integration into local communities
At least 12 other foreign nationals had been set to reappear in court on Friday, 6 November 2020, in a case in which they have rejected the option of integration into local communities and instead want the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to relocate them to a third country, preferably Canada.
The Home Affairs department and its asylum structures have embarked on a project to deal with all the backlogs in asylum processes, including appeals. The project is partly funded by the UNHCR as part of their commitment to assisting SA in clearing the backlogs in the asylum processes. The Minister of Home Affairs would like to extend his sincere gratitude to the UNHCR for its intervention. The funds would be used to employ additional lawyers on a temporary basis to assist in the asylum processes

Home Affairs lifts visa requirements for several nationalities The South African Department of Home Affairs announces the removal of visa requirements for several nationalities.

Several airlines denied boarding to some international passengers on flights bound for South African airports last week, even though South Africa’s borders had reopened.
Confusion over South Africa’s entry requirements forced airlines operating flights to South Africa to refuse passage to passengers of certain nationalities, during the first few days of South Africa’s borders reopening.
Visa-free entry to the Republic of South Africa, for citizens of foreign countries, was temporarily suspended at the start of the national lockdown in March.
In a document received by the Association of Southern African Travel Agents (ASATA), on 4 October, the Department of Home Affairs confirmed that visa-exemption status has been reinstated for citizens of several countries.
The letter states that the Minister of Home Affairs has reinstated visa-exemption status for citizens of the following countries, when entering South Africa:
• South Korea
• Spain
• Italy
• Germany
• Hong Kong
• Singapore
• UK
• France
• Portugal
• Iran
The document from the Department of Home Affairs states that nationals from the 11 countries listed are free to visit South Africa provided they comply with the applicable health and hygiene protocols in place.
This comes as a result of airlines refusing carriage to passengers from certain countries when boarding flights to South Africa last week.
The document grants permission to travellers who intend using South African airports as a transit point for connecting flights to other destinations, provided health and hygiene protocols are complied with.