Refugees rounded up for deportation

Trucks were taking foreigners from the Glenanda refugee camp in Johannesburg to deportation centres on Tuesday afternoon, a Department of Home Affairs spokesperson said.

People who did not sign up for the temporary ID cards, valid for six months, or did not have legal papers would be deported, said Cleo Mosana.

People at the camp, established for refugees from recent xenophobic violence, had begun packing in preparation. Some were gathering their blankets and willingly getting into police vans that were present, though others did not look keen to follow.

Some police vans were deliberately blocking the view of journalists on the scene.

A police officer said over a loudspeaker: “Families, make sure that your kids are with you.”

Home Affairs Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula arrived at the camp along with other government officials and was briefed by police.

The minister told reporters: “The process of deportation has started. We did give them a period of time for the message to sink in—that is, if they don’t register, they will be deported, and still they did not register.

“It will be difficult to register a lot of people at this venue so the processes will happen at the repatriation camp.

“South Africa has been generous and compassionate in hosting those people but some people have spread rumours that we are abusing them [refugees] by taking their fingerprints. If people think they can take advantage of our compassion, then tough luck, they’ll have to be deported.”

Approximately 850 of the 1 800 residents at the camp had apparently signed up for the ID cards.

Seven foreigners were arrested at the camp on Tuesday, for intimidation and clashing with police, after they allegedly resisted plans to remove them.

Mosana told reporters at the camp: “People’s lives are in their hands. They must decide. The government has created the environment.”

She said the department would still allow people to sign the forms for the temporary IDs on Tuesday.

A foreigner from the Democratic Republic of Congo said that he was afraid to be reintegrated into a South African community.

“We also fear being sent back to our homelands. So what choice do we have? All the refugee camps that I have been in did not have police or security guards, but in South Africa they do. They have been mistreating us,” he said, not wanting to be named.

Some foreign nationals not affected by the xenophobic attacks had been sneaking into the Glenanda camp to get temporary identity cards, said Gauteng provincial government spokesperson Thabo Masebe earlier.

“They can’t do that. This is a special arrangement for victims,” he said, adding that the fence at the back of the camp had been broken by people sneaking in.

The camp’s population had risen from 1 500 to about 1 800 even though some people had been leaving to return to their neighbourhoods.

False start
Earlier, those foreigners who had not signed up for the temporary IDs were taken out of the camps in trucks bound for the Lindela repatriation centre to be deported.

Mosana told the Mail & Guardian Online at the time that people would be “sorted into categories” at Lindela. “All documents will be checked for authenticity and legitimacy. Those with asylum papers and refugee status will be allowed to stay.”

However, the trucks returned to the camp with the people still in them.

Masebe said the foreigners were brought back because officials wanted to complete administrative procedures before taking them away.

He also said people who had signed for the IDs would soon have to make their own arrangements because the camp would be closed, possibly next week or at least within two weeks. “All government has to do is create safety. People are now free to go back [to the areas they were living in before the attacks].”

Last week, police clashed with foreigners, exchanging stones and rubber bullets after some residents held security guards hostage at the shelter, the biggest refugee camp in Gauteng.

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