The department of home affairs has yet to explain the extended detention of 22 inmates at the Lindela repatriation centre following a riot at the facility on Monday.
On March 20 the Legal Resources Centre (LRC) brought an urgent application to the South Gauteng High Court in Johannesburg requesting the immediate release of 22 people who have been detained at Lindela for longer than the prescribed period of 120 days.
“Liberty is the most important right for these individuals and it is being persistently denied by home affairs officials for reasons we cannot ascertain,” LRC attorney Naseema Fakir told the Mail & Guardian.
Lindela is a facility run by home affairs where illegal foreigners are detained prior to deportation.
According to section 34 of the Immigration Act of 2002, an immigration officer may arrest an illegal foreigner without the need for a warrant and detain them for a period of no longer than 30 days, after which a subsequent 90-day order must be confirmed through a warrant issued by a magistrate.
After 120 days of incarceration has elapsed, the Act stipulates all detainees should be released regardless of their official residence status.
Additionally the Constitution states “everyone has the right not to be deprived of freedom arbitrarily or without just cause” — a right afforded both to South Africans and foreigners.
“The facility often hosts more foreigners than regulations stipulate and those kept at Lindela cannot actively exercise their right to be released. There is only one pay phone for over 3 000 detainees at the centre and often those detained have no money for calls,” Fakir added.
After briefly appearing in the high court in Johannesburg on Tuesday, the matter was suspended until Thursday, after the department of home affairs failed to prepare documentation to support their case for continued incarceration.
On Monday, more than 70 detainees, mainly of Nigerian and Ethiopian descent, were understood to have demanded a meeting with immigration officials after some were kept at the facility for over 9 months.
During the incident, the LRC received phone calls from inmates within Lindela claiming rubber bullets were fired at the protesting group and teargas was released into the yard in attempt to disperse them.
Several internees are reported to have sustained serious injuries, with one understood to have been taken to hospital after the incident.
“All attempts to find out what happened during the incident have gone unanswered and we were referred to the legal services department of home affairs. We do however still intend to investigate the matter and find out the extent of the injuries suffered by those concerned,” Fakir said.
Repeated requests by the M&G for comment on the demonstration from the department of home affairs went unanswered.
However, controversies at the Lindela repatriation centre have been well documented, with the M&G recently reporting on severe health concerns and unauthorised detention at the facility.
Earlier in March the LRC legally secured the release of a Nigerian and an Angolan who were unlawfully detained as illegal foreigners.
The Nigerian was incarcerated for 114 days while in possession of a valid work permit, while the Angolan national was detained as an illegal foreigner for 132 days without a warrant.
Both asked not to be named for fear of victimisation.