Crackdown on refugees ahead of elections


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JOHANNESBURG – In advance of this week’s South African elections, government departments have been targeting refugees and asylum seekers, blaming foreigners for high unemployment rates and overcrowding in the townships. The flood of native South Africans looking for jobs and an escape from rural poverty has been exacerbated by the influx of Zimbabweans and other migrants.

South African Home Affairs officers are struggling with huge numbers. Increasing patterns of police brutality and harassment led human rights groups and clergy leaders including Methodist Bishop Paul Verryn to march to the local police headquarters in the city last week.

Faced with an influx of 1000 or more refugees each week, police are allegedly tearing up asylum documents and throwing Zimbabweans into the notorious detention centre at Lindela, where they are held for a while, deported, and subsequently slip back across the border in a relentless search for food and safety.

“To try to distinguish between a political asylum seeker and an economic asylum seeker is ridiculous,” said Bishop Verryn. He attributed the exodus largely to Operation Murambatsvina. “This was a political move and it has caused enormous suffering for people. It may not target opposition members specifically. It targets the poor. But nonetheless, it is a very specific political movement that has dramatic economic results,” he added.

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