Rights groups cry foul as South Africa resumes deportations of undocumented Zimbabweans
Home Affairs has begun deporting undocumented Zimbabweans who did not apply for legal status under a special dispensation, despite previous statements that it would not do so until it had completed its Zimbabwe Documentation Project. The move, which was not communicated, has caused confusion and angered immigrant rights groups. By OSIAME MOLEFE.
The moratorium on the deportation of Zimbabwean citizens living in South Africa has ended and the SA government has secretly begun returning undocumented nationals to Zimbabwe, according to immigration rights group People Against Suffering Oppression and Poverty (Passop). Having been in place since April 2009 and extended several times, the moratorium was set to finally end once Home Affairs completed its Zimbabwe Documentation Project, which sought to offer undocumented Zimbabweans legal status and relieve pressure on the asylum seeker management system.
Both the Zimbabwe Exiles Forum (ZEF) and Passop have expressed concern over beginning deportations at this time. Gabriel Shumba, executive director of ZEF, said that with the uncertainty over the upcoming elections and recent violence, the political situation in Zimbabwe is far from stable. Shumba believes that Home Affairs will be exposing deportees to election violence should they begin sending them back now.
Braam Hanekom, Passop director, added that with Census 2011 starting next week, beginning deportations now for the first time in two years, undermines the credibility of the population count, “as surely undocumented Zimbabweans will not answer doors to be counted and will do everything they can to avoid arrest and deportation”. Hanekom also said that lifting of the moratorium is counter to what Mkuseli Apleni, Home Affairs director-general, has been saying all along.
Apleni had reiterated several times this year that the South African government would not be deporting any undocumented Zimbabwean nationals until it has completed processing all applications under the documentation project. Apleni made the same undertaking to the parliamentary portfolio committee for Home Affairs, according to Hanekom.
At a media briefing in Cape Town on Thursday, home affairs minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma said that the project was in its final phases. She said her department is sending text messages telling applicants to come in to have their fingerprints taken and submit outstanding documents. Some of the messages have not been delivered as applicants may have changed numbers or returned to Zimbabwe, Dlamini-Zuma added.
On deportations and the moratorium, Dlamini-Zuma said, “There is no blanket moratorium on Zimbabweans. How can we be a country that says if you’re from Zimbabwe, just break our immigration laws, its fine? We can’t be. That moratorium was for a particular period, that’s why people had to register. It wasn’t just a blanket. If you break our [immigration] laws, we will arrest you.”
In his most recent briefing to the home affairs portfolio committee, Jack Monedi, acting chief director for permits, said that the department had received 275,762 applications. Of these, 134,369 had been approved and issued, and 141,393 had been pre-adjudicated and checked. He said 116,900 applications were incomplete.
It is unclear how many Zimbabweans failed to apply for status under the project or how many have entered the country since the 31 December 2010 application deadline. But with the continuing political situation in Zimbabwe and its effect on the country’s internal security and economy, the project may have in effect set the counter back to zero. Until all Zimbabweans begin to feel safe and believe they can prosper in their home country, the numbers of undocumented Zimbabweans in South African will begin rise to the point where the asylum system cannot cope again.
In the meantime, with this latest move, Passop claims Home Affairs is undoing all the progress made so far in assessing how many Zimbabweans are in South Africa. It says the government is perpetuating the plight of undocumented Zimbabweans and adding to instability in South African communities.
- Zimbabwean Documentation Project: briefing by Department of Home Affairs, on PMG.org.za.