Home affairs in the dark about number of illegal immigrants

The Department of Home Affairs has no idea how many illegal immigrants are in South Africa.

Responding to a question at a parliamentary media briefing on Thursday, Home Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma said providing such a figure was “difficult”.

Asked to give her department’s latest estimate of the number of people illegally living and working in South Africa, she replied: “I don’t know. If somebody’s here illegally, how do I know they are here? I do not know, that’s an honest answer.”

Tthe South African Police Service, in its 2008/09 annual report, said there could be as many as six million “undocumented” foreigners in the country.

“According to various estimates, the number of undocumented immigrants in South Africa may vary between three and six million people,” according to the report.

The police go on to say most of these illegal immigrants “may belong to the economically-active age group, as well as the high crime-risk age group”.

Asked to confirm whether her department had “absolutely no estimate” of the number of illegal immigrants, Dlamini-Zuma said the only figures she could offer were those of asylum seekers.

“What I can tell you is that [last year] there were about 110 000 applications for asylum. Only 10 000 were agreed to as genuine asylum seekers and those were then given refugee status.

“The rest would have had to leave by either deportation or voluntary ... But as for those who don’t turn up at our offices, either as asylum seekers or permit seekers or anything, it’s very difficult that I can give you a figure for that,” Dlamini-Zuma said.

According to the South Africa Year Book—a Government Communication and Information System publication—her department’s immigration branch is responsible for “tracing and removing foreigners who are considered undesirable or who are in South Africa illegally”. - Sapa

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