SA Public Protector called in over Zim documentation deadline

sa_home_affairsSouth Africas Office of the Public Protector has this week been called on to intervene on behalf of tens of thousands of Zimbabweans, trying to regularise their stay before the end of the year.

The December 31st deadline for Zim nationals to get proper permits to remain in South Africa is fast approaching, and fears are high that there will be a return to mass deportations in the New Year. But despite clear signs and warnings that the documentation process is doomed to fail, South Africas department of Home Affairs has adamantly refused to extend the deadline past December.

Lawyers for Human Rights (LHR) and a group of 18 other civil society organisations have now submitted an official complaint to the Public Protector, over this refusal to extend the deadline. LHRs head of the groups refugee and migrants rights programme, Kaajal Ramjathan-Keogh, told SW Radio Africa on Thursday that Home Affairs is putting thousands of people at risk of deportation.

We all hoped that that the Minister of Home Affairs would understand the difficulties and challenges associated with the implementation of the documentation project, and allow people to collect the documents necessary in order to apply for the permits. But it appears that the Minister has decided not to exercise discretion or reasonableness in the exercise of her public power in order to obtain a successful outcome of this project, Ramjathan-Keogh said.

LHR has been calling on Home Affairs to extend the deadline since it was first announced earlier this year, calls that have been echoed by various rights groups in recent weeks. Hundreds of thousands of Zim nationals have been queuing, sometimes for days at a time, to get their paper work in order. But to date there has only been an estimated 40 000 successful applications, even though well over a million people are said to need documents. It has become obvious that the deadline will not allow a success of the project, because there are a number of difficulties that means a large number of undocumented people will be left vulnerable, Ramjathan-Keogh said.

The civil society groups are calling on the Public Protector to intervene with Home Affairs and departmental officials to ensure that this project is in fact capable of achieving its stated aims and objectives. The groups want the Public Protector discuss a number of issues with Home Affairs, including reviewing the deadline and considering the current political situation in Zimbabwe, before deportations resume.

Ramjathan-Keogh explained that a return to mass deportations is a huge concern, because such deportations not only result in widespread violation of rights, but are a massive waste of public money and resources. She also expressed more concern that a newly built detention facility in the Musina border town is about to become operational, calling the timing worryingly convenient.

LHR will address a press conference about the Zimbabwe documentation project on Friday, which will mark International Human Rights Day.

We continue to call on government to reconsider this matter and abide by its obligations under international law and the Constitution, LHR said.

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