The treatment of refugees and asylum seekers by the home affairs department in South Africa is a cause for concern in a country considered by many as a beacon of hope in Africa, the African Diaspora Forum (ADF) said on Tuesday.
“We cannot assume that the South African government doesn’t know what is happening here at the Marabastad Refugee Reception Office [in Pretoria]. This facility is managed by an oiled system of corrupt individuals who are employed by home affairs,” said Marc Gbaffou, chairperson of the ADF.
“Prior to 1994, the whole continent was so keen to have South Africa free so that it can lead this continent further. Unfortunately, post 1994 South Africa is turning into what we know today – rejecting Africans and going everywhere claiming that it is receiving them in bulk and taking care of them.”
Scores of activists from civic society groups including ADF, Lawyers for Human Rights, Consortium for Refugees and Migrants in South Africa and Corruption Watch gathered near the Marabastad Refugee Reception Office demanding an end to endemic extortion and corruption cited in the Corruption Watch report titled “Project Lokisa: Asylum at a Price” released on Tuesday.
“The Department of Home Affairs has to respond to any of the attempts by Corruption Watch and its civil society partners to alert them to the reports of corruption received from foreign nationals, and also reject the recommendations contained in a memorandum proposing practical solutions to the problem,” Corruption Watch spokesperson Moira Campbell said in a statement at the release of the damning report.
“As a result of investigations into allegations of extortion, threats and bribery by government officials, Corruption Watch last week opened criminal cases at the Johannesburg Central Police station against three individuals implicated in corrupt activities at Marabastad Refugee Reception office (RRO) (case numbers: 934/11/16; 935/11/16 and 936/11/16).”
The charges of corruption were opened against the manager of the Marabastad centre Mtetho Earnest Macanda, who is accused of having “his hand in the cookie jar”, fellow home affairs official Gladwin Cameron Monareng and the alleged prominent middleman Mutombo Odimegwu (aka Sylvie) of ZRGB Translation and Interpretation Services.
According to a 2015 UN High Commission for Refugees report, Global Trends: Forced Displacement, there are currently 3.2-million individuals awaiting decisions on asylum claims globally.
“Of these, South Africa has the highest number of pending asylum claims, with an astonishing 1,096,100 individuals waiting for their claims to be processed. This points to the lack of efficiency at the Department of Home Affairs in processing such claims,” said Campbell.
Since 2012, Corruption Watch has received 314 complaints of corruption relating to applications for asylum or refugee status and other immigration-related processes.
The findings of the report show that 80 percent of these complaints involved the department’s refugee reception offices, which include home affairs officials, security guards, administrators and interpreters.
About 17 percent of the complaints implicated metro police and SA Police Service officials, and 74 percent involved bribes demanded for issuing asylum and refugee permits.
“These gatekeepers vary from the security guard who extracts R100 for allowing the refugee to literally enter the gate of the documentation centre, to the department of home affairs official who is custodian of that vital final stamp and whose fee is often measured in thousands of rands,” said Corruption Watch’s executive director David Lewis.
Corruption Watch is requesting home affairs to pursue disciplinary proceedings against officials identified in the Project Lokisa sting operations, done in compiling the report.
“Our simple request to the Department of Home Affairs is that they work with us. This doesn’t require extra resources from the department. Mutual empathy with the plight of the most vulnerable members of our society is all that is needed,” said Lewis.
Corruption Watch chairperson and former Home Affairs director-general Mavuso Msimang said he hoped the current leadership at the department takes note of Project Lokisa.
“A lot of things are said about how home affairs has improved since its very bad old days. I’m happy to be associated with that success but I can tell you, we introduced technology, we cracked on some of the people who were involved in corrupt,” he said.
Msimang said the immigrant community is adding value to South African society.
“Slurs are cast every time, but people don’t want to recognise officially that they find value among the least qualified of refugees. If you were to check, many senior people including ministers, hire non-South Africans to look after their domestics. I used to be asked to give permits,” said the ANC veteran.
“If you are adventurous enough to seek for opportunities elsewhere, you are highly motivated.”
The Home Affairs Department was not available to comment on the Corruption Watch report.
– African News Agency