The detention of nine Zimbabweans who were returning to their home country in a minibus taxi last month was lawful, as they were undocumented, the department of home affairs has said.
The nine “illegal foreigners”, arrested on August 21, are being held in De Aar, in the Northern Cape. They were told they would be kept for up to three months and then transferred to Lindela Repatriation Centre in Gauteng.
Home affairs director-general Mkuseli Apleni said yesterday the Zimbabweans had to be arrested in order to obtain documents to deport them.
“We must first go to the embassy of the country they claim to come from and the Zimbabwean government has to give us a certificate confirming they are nationals of the country.
“Their country of origin needs to issue a one-way document for them to cross the border.
“One cannot leave the country without those documents,” he told The Citizen on the sidelines of Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba’s tour of the Marabastad refugee reception office in Pretoria.
The nine Zimbabweans have been held at Hanover Police Station in the Northern Cape for the past three weeks. Apleni said the length of their stay there depended on how long it took to process the documents.
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“Unfortunately, there is no Zimbabwean embassy or consulate in the Northern Cape, they are only in Gauteng and Cape Town.
“Embassy [staff] will need to go to De Aar to identify all nine of their citizens to confirm that they are indeed from Zimbabwe.
“We can’t allow them to go to Zimbabwe without being assured that they are indeed from there.” Apleni said.
He said the nine could be taken to Lindela Repatriation Centre in the interim to “protect” them.
“Lindela is operating well and the Human Rights Commission has an office space to work from there.
“As the department, we inspect the centre often. It can accommodate a maximum of 3 500 foreigners at a time.” he said.
Meanwhile, Gigaba’s visit to the Marabastad Refugee reception office was to assess progress on renovations and the implementation of a new paperless system.
The new system operates from an automated asylum-seeker kiosk that captures refugees’ fingerprints and books an appointment for them with the department of home affairs.
The system will be fully operational by November and will stop corruption, Gigaba said.
“Anyone who enters the centre will enter on the basis of the online booking, meaning their fingerprints have been captured.
“The applicant will be provided with a date and time of interview and capturing of data. If they do not have their fingerprints captured, they will not be able to access the centre.
“This will avoid corruption and bribery, as they won’t have access to officials,” said Gigaba.
The paperless system would be rolled out throughout the country and at border posts over the next five years.