Zimbabwean nationals in South Africa, who top the world’s asylum-seeker list, could face possible deportation if they have no documentation, thanks to a recent government decision.
A special government “dispensation” allowed Zimbabweans the right to reside in South Africa without documentation, but will come to an end on December 31.
According to the United Nations Refugee Agency, nine out of 10 Zimbabwean asylum claims lodged worldwide, were made in South Africa in 2009, the destination of choice for many of Africa’s migrants.
What does the withdrawal of the special dispensation mean for Zimbabwean nationals living in South Africa? We bring you all the answers on the new rules.
What is the special dispensation?
The special dispensation — implemented in April last year — allowed Zimbabweans crossing into South Africa the right to reside in the country for six months, seek employment, attend an educational facility and seek access to basic healthcare, without documentation. It was introduced during the height of political turmoil in Zimbabwe, where political and economic instability, blamed on President Robert Mugabe’s policies, saw hundreds of thousands flee to South Africa.
Why is the dispensation being withdrawn?
According to government spokesperson Themba Maseko, the decision to withdraw the dispensation followed a bilateral agreement between the South African and Zimbabwean ministers of home affairs. Home Affairs spokesperson Ronnie Mamoepa said the withdrawal has nothing to do with the political situation in Zimbabwe. He said it was no surprise that the dispensation is coming to an end, as it was always intended to be a temporary solution. “Just as we document South Africans, documenting of people assists with planning for, example, basic services for people living inside the country,” Mamoepa told the Mail & Guardian. “This has everything to do with documenting foreign nationals based in South Africa, starting with Zimbabweans.”
The process of issuing Zimbabweans with relevant South African permits for business, study and work will begin from September 20 2010, according to the Department of Home Affairs. Zimbabweans living in South Africa won’t be required to return to their country to acquire the documents, which are “machine-readable”.
“The Zimbabwean mnister of home affairs has assured us that everyone who needs to be documented will be enabled to do so. They have even deployed their Registrar-General to ensure this matter is handled efficiently and appropriately,” Home Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma told the media during the announcement. According to the agreement between Pretoria and Harare, the Zimbabwean embassy in Pretoria and its consulate in Johannesburg will assist with the issuance of valid travel documents to Zimbabwean nationals, resident in South Africa so that the Department of Home Affairs can issue qualifying nationals with valid permits. Mamoepa said “supporting documents” will be necessary to confirm which documents should be issued.
Where to get the permit?
The permits will be issued at the 46 regional Home Affairs offices in all the nine provinces. “If you’re a domestic worker, your employer must submit an affidavit. If you are doing business you need to go to the business association,” Mamoepa said. There have been 213 home affairs officials deployed, both at headquarters and throughout the provinces, to facilitate this process. However this number may increase depending on the volumes of applicants who will come forward to the home affairs offices where dedicated lanes will be setup for this purpose. Applicants will be informed via sms of the status of their application. Work, study and business permits that will be issued to qualifying Zimbabwean nationals through the process will be made available free of charge. However, this process does not replace the normal processes related to the application for asylum.
Application for asylum
According to the Department of Home Affairs, an application for asylum must be made in person at a designated Refugee Reception Office.
Upon applying, an applicant must have his/her fingerprints or other prints taken before an interview is conducted by a Refugee Reception Officer.
A successful applicant will be issued with an asylum seekers permit, which allows the applicant to “sojourn” in the Republic temporarily.
The conditions of the permit are subject to the discretion of the Standing Committee for Refugee Affairs.
The South African government has extended an amnesty to all Zimbabweans who are in possession of fraudulent South African documents.
According to the Department of Home Affairs, such nationals will not be prosecuted provided all illegal documents are handed in to Home Affairs offices around South Africa with “immediate effect.”
However returning fraudulent documentation does not mean that you will automatically qualify for regularisation, government spokesperson Themba Maseko said.
After returning this fraudulent documentation, Zimbabweans illegally in the country will have to apply for permits that enable them to legally reside in South Africa.
“After the 31st of December all undocumented Zimbabweans will be treated like all others and their deportation will resume,” Maseko told reporters.
There are no definitive figures on how many Zimbabweans there are in South Africa. The International Organisation for Migration estimates the figure to be between 1,5-million and two million.
According to Mamoepa there are 350 000 legal Zimbabwean nationals who have entered South Africa legally through its land, sea and airports.
Maseko added that after December 31, all Zimbabweans whose presence in South Africa was not formalized would be deported.
“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.
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.
“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”, Maseko added. “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.”