/ 2 September 2010

Refugee group slams govt decision on Zim migrants

Cabinet’s decision to resume deportations of Zimbabweans was tantamount to a death sentence, the refugee rights organisation, Passop, said on Thursday.

It was responding to the announcement by a government spokesperson that the special dispensation for Zimbabwean nationals introduced in April 2009 would be terminated at the end of this year.

Passop said in a statement that it hoped to meet with the department of home affairs to discuss its unhappiness with the plan and to ensure that the rights of Zimbabweans were protected.

“Failing which, we shall consider what actions could be taken in resistance to the return of the draconian tactics of deportation,” it said.

“[These] amount to the refusal of South Africa to provide survival to vulnerable groups, essentially a death sentence.”

Passop said its initial understanding of the moratorium had been that it was an interim solution while the government provided Zimbabwean nationals with a special exemption under the Immigration Act.

This document had, however, not been distributed or made available to Zimbabwean nationals, and refugee reception centres remained clogged.

“It has been proven that deportation does not work, as the department previously deported in excess of 140 000 people a year at a huge expense,” it said.

“We disagree with the belief that a sustainable solution has been met in Zimbabwe. We do not believe that the humanitarian crisis has been resolved.”

Bilateral agreement
Earlier on Thursday, government spokesperson Themba Maseko said the Cabinet had approved a proposal to end the special dispensation for Zimbabwean nationals introduced in April 2009.

This followed a bilateral agreement between the South African and Zimbabwean ministers of home affairs, he told a media briefing.

The special dispensation would end on December 31, and all Zimbabweans who had not had their presence in South Africa formalised by then would be deported, Maseko said.

“Those who are here illegally without any documents will be given a period between now and the end of December to sort out their documentation with the Zimbabwean authorities and with home affairs, and after this date anybody who does not have any form of permit to be in the country will be deported.”

Maseko said the special dispensation was put in place during “a time when there was a political crisis in Zimbabwe” to allow free movement

“But we believe some form of stability has returned to Zimbabwe and therefore all Zimbabweans will now be treated like any other foreign nationals.”

Maseko said Cabinet’s decision to withdraw the accord was part of efforts to ensure that all foreign nationals residing in South Africa were documented and their presence regularised.

Zimbabweans working, conducting business or studying in South Africa would be issued with a working permit, business permit or a study permit, provided they had valid Zimbabwean documents.

“I would imagine this would also apply to those doing informal work in the country,” he added.

As part of the agreement to suspend free movement, Harare had undertaken to issue documents to all its undocumented nationals, he said. Where this was not possible, the Zimbabweans would be allowed to return home and fetch the necessary papers.

There would be “an amnesty” for Zimbabweans who might have obtained South African identity documents fraudulently, on condition that such documents were returned to the home affairs department with immediate effect.

However, this would not mean that they would automatically qualify for regularisation, Maseko said. They would then have to apply for permits that enabled them to legally reside in South Africa.

He added: “We are saying return these [illegal] documents … Start making sure that you get your Zimbabwean documents and then when you’ve got your Zimbabwean documents, then we clarify what is your status in this country and we will then issue you with the relevant permit.

“So if you are in the country illegally and you have a job, you get a work permit. If you don’t, you get deported.”

Zimbabwean students in the country illegally would have to apply for study permits. Failure to do so would also result in deportation.

Pretoria and Harare would establish a joint monitoring and evaluation committee to oversee implementation of this policy decision.

Issuing of various permits would commence between now and December 31, and the deportation of undocumented Zimbabweans would resume after this date.

A similar process would be initiated for nationals from other neighbouring countries in future, Maseko said “so that we can begin to have everybody properly documented and can have their fingerprints so that if somebody commits a crime, we can know who that person was”.

He said the process would also give the government a better idea of how many foreigners there are in South Africa. — Sapa