Limbo in Lindela awaits 'Operation Fiela' migrants

Migrants at Lindela repatriation centre. (Lisa Skinner, MG)

Migrants at Lindela repatriation centre. (Lisa Skinner, MG)

The department of home affairs will have its hands full as it attempts to deport the 745 illegal foreign migrants arrested last week as part of its Operation Fiela.

The operation embarked on by the team from the National Joint Operational and Intelligence Structure (Natjoints) set out to “root out criminal elements” in seven provinces following xenophobic unrest that gripped South Africa last month.

“A total of 745 people were arrested for being in the country without documentation. These individuals will be deported and handed over to officials in their respective countries,” Natjoints said in a statement.

Home affairs spokesperson Mayihlome Tshwete said the challenge would be transporting the illegal immigrants from the detention facilities across the country to the Lindela Repatriation Centre, a detention centre for undocumented migrants, in Krugersdorp West.

“We will have to make a plan to deal with (the volume of illegal immigrants awaiting deportation). But we will manage,” he said.

Tshwete said the department would ensure that the illegal immigrants are deported within 30 days.

Detained for too long
But home affairs has previously been in hot water for keeping illegal immigrants at the centre longer than legally prescribed.

Last year the South African Human Rights Commission obtained six detainee lists for Lindela and was able to report that 52 people had been at the centre for more than the 120-day maximum period.
Four had been at Lindela for more than 300 days.

In response, Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba defended the department – saying that this happened as a result of some embassies not responding in time to requests to verify the status of the migrants.

More than 800 people have been arrested since Operation Fiela-Reclaim was launched last week by the interministerial committee on migration, headed by Jeff Radebe, the minister for planning in the presidency.

President Jacob Zuma formed the committee of 13 ministers who are dealing with the underlying causes of the tensions between communities and foreign nationals.

“Two hundred and seventy eight people have been arrested in KwaZulu-Natal, 414 in Gauteng, 29 in the Free State, 24 in the Western Cape, 10 in the Northern Cape, nine in the North West and 125 in the Eastern Cape since the start of Operation Fiela on April 27,” the Natjoints team said in a statement.

Urged against inciting violence
While xenophobic unrest seems to have simmered down following the deployment of the army two weeks ago, the team urged South Africans not to incite violence against foreign nationals.

“Our intelligence services continue to monitor cyberspace for comments that incite violence against foreign nationals. People making such comments must know we are coming for them,” said the chairperson of Natjoints, Lieutenant General Elias Mawela.

The increased visibility of security forces, the team admitted, has so far resulted in calm in areas known for violence such as Thabazimbi in Limpopo, Thembelihle in Johannesburg and Isipingo in KwaZulu-Natal.

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