Pandor in urgent bid to solve ‘unclaimed’ illegal immigrant problem

Home Affairs Minister Naledi Pandor plans urgently to talk to ambassadors in a bid to resolve problems of illegal immigrants who are not claimed by their country’s representatives, saying people end up staying at the Lindela repatriation facility in Krugersdorp for months.

There have been incidents where illegal immigrants stayed for more than the legally permitted 120 days at the repatriation holding facilities. The department spends between R70m and R90m a year on the repatriation of illegal immigrants.

Ms Pandor, who visited the facilities to assess them, described them as clean and praised the caretakers for "doing their best to treat undocumented people humanely".

She said on Friday afternoon that she would be addressing ambassadors from the countries in the Southern African Development Community (Sadc), where most illegal immigrants came from, to find a way of assisting Home Affairs officials to speed up the process of verifying the citizenship of arrested illegal immigrants.

"We can’t send a person away to any country. It is our duty to verify their citizenship and this is done with the help of embassies who either confirm or deny that the person is from their country before repatriation is done.

"I personally monitor the numbers of people here and the time they are kept because I want to make sure we don’t keep people here for more than the legally permitted time … I get regular reports to ensure we adhere to regulation," she said.

Ms Pandor invited MPs to visit the facilities and said she would soon invite interested nongovernmental organisations and government bodies such as the South African Human Rights Commission to pay regular visits to all Home Affairs holding facilities "to independently inspect" whether officials were treating undocumented people with dignity and compassion.

"We hope that they would then write up credible reports about the way illegal immigrants are being handled and treated before repatriation, which would assist us to improve and Parliament would also use (the reports) to ensure we conduct ourselves professionally," she said.

She reiterated the need for South Africa to review immigration policies, saying too much money was being spent repatriating people who soon returned to South Africa, sometimes within days, because of desperate economic conditions in their countries.

South Africa needed a different approach to economic migration, she said, and should assess who it could accommodate and what jobs could be opened for foreigners. Hopefully this would reduce the influx. Ms Pandor said she believed the solution was in regional economic development and integration, which would make people stay in their countries because there would be jobs.

She was told of a story of a person released in the morning after he spent days at Lindela facilities just because the police found him without a passport or some form of identification in his possession, only to be released after a friend brought a passport and it was proven that he was in the country legally.

She said police and Home Affairs arresting officials needed to be properly trained to be able to double-check immigrants’ stories before inconveniencing them by sending them to the holding facility. "It is unfortunate that people have to go through such an experience when they are in the country legally and our officers need to have better reason to arrest an individual," she said.

  • This article originally appeared in Business Day on 25 January 2013.

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