Cops arrest 81 Africans without legal documents in Cape Town swoop
Written by Yazeed Kamaldien
Scores of undocumented African foreigners were arrested in Cape Town yesterday, bringing home fears they would bear the brunt of government’s failure to process their paperwork.
Constable Noloyiso Rwexana, spokeswoman for the Western Cape police, yesterday confirmed the national home affairs department arrested 81 “undocumented foreign nationals”.
This was part of the police’s crime combating Operation Fiela, said Rwexana. She said police were accompanied by “traffic officials, Metro police, brand specialists, immigration officials and military officers”.
Rwexana said all the arrests were made when officials “descended on the Cape Town station deck between 10am until 2pm”.
“Counterfeit goods to the value of R150,000 were confiscated. Substantial amounts dagga seized, one taxi impounded and 86 arrests effected,” said Rwexana.
“Of the arrests, 81 are undocumented foreign nationals, one for possession of dagga, three for counterfeit goods and one for an outstanding warrant of arrest.”
She added: “They didn’t have papers with them. They were illegal immigrants. They are from different African countries.”
Rwexana could not say where the 81 arrested foreigners were being held and referred queries to national home affairs department.
Weekend Argus made several attempts to contact the relevant home affairs officials for comment.
The newspaper spokes to Mandla Madumisa, from the department’s immigration services, but he referred queries to departmental spokesman who could not be reached for comment.
Yesterday’s arrests come months after Weekend Argus reported that African refugees and asylum seekers were facing difficulties legalising their status in the country.
This was after the national home affairs department closed the Cape Town Refugee Reception Office (RRO) at Customs House on the Foreshore.
At the time, the non-profit Cape Town Refugee Centre (CTRC) said this placed refugees and asylum seekers at risk because many could not afford to travel out of the city to have their paperwork sorted at other refugee centres in the country.
The centre said there were “approximately 85,000 unresolved asylum claims that are being processed” by the time the reception office was closed last year.
The CTRC’s director Kathryn Hoeflich said there were “many organisations in Cape Town grappling with the fall-out of the closure of the RRO”.
Hoeflich said African foreigners “want to respect the law and apply for asylum because they need protection”.
“But now they cannot because the RRO in Cape Town is closed. They have no money to travel back to one of the open centres in Musina, Pretoria or Durban,” she said.
“Again, a vulnerable person is put in a more vulnerable position and is prevented from fulfilling their obligation to register and apply for asylum legitimately.”
She added: “Forcing good and otherwise law-abiding people to choose between putting themselves or families at great risk and financial burden or breaking the law is simply not good policy.
“We have many cases of families, elderly and infirm people in this situation and even a few unaccompanied minor children who had to travel on their own.
And there is also the issue of newcomers. These are often people who very recently fled their country of origin for fear of persecution. They arrive, are often terrified and ignorant of the process so they skip the border, spend their last dime in Cape Town.”
Yesterday’s arrests come days before the events are planned to mark World Refugee Day on Tuesday (June 20). These events focus on combating hate attacks against African foreigners during a recent surge of xenophobia in parts of the country.
Lobby group Right2Know Campaign along with the Khulumani Support Group and others will host an event for refugees at Community House in Salt River.
It said the theme would be “refugees are ordinary people, living through extraordinary times”.
“The event is to reflect on all the horrific violence from the countries and communities where people came from, a reminder that we can all seek lasting solutions to all the conflicts around the world that have forced millions of people to flee their homes to save their lives,” it said.
It aimed to “honour all those refugees who have made a positive contribution to their communities, and those who have lost their lives in any form of conflict”.
Doctors Without Borders have meanwhile called on “governments… to respect the rights and dignity of refugees, migrants and displaced people who have been forced to flee their homes”.
It said this year a “staggering 59.5 million people have been displaced”.
Statistics from home affairs indicate that between 2009 and 2013 a total 651,330 foreigners sought asylum in South Africa. Non-governmental organisations have claimed the department has been slow in processing the resultant paperwork.