The South African government has deported more than 15000 undocumented immigrants, amidst an on going multi-divisions crime-combating blitz, code-named Operation Fiela, Minister in the Presidency Jeff Radebe said on Monday.
“In the period April to July 2015 a total number of 15 396 people who were in South Africa illegally have been repatriated to their countries,” said Radebe who chairs the government’s Inter-Ministerial Committee on Migration.
The committee was established after a wave of xenophobic violence occurred in the country in April.
Radebe said he didn’t have the figures for how many immigrants had opted to be repatriated following the xenophobic violence and how many were deported after being arrested during the blitz. However, he noted that the majority of immigrants had opted to be sent home.
“I don’t have the figures with me here, but [for] the majority of people during this period, it was at their own request to be repatriated back to their homes. I’m sure we can provide the actual details of who voluntarily left and those who were repatriated during the process,” he said.
Radebe said a team comprising of the South African Police Service (SAPS) and the Home Affairs Department was currently vetting foreign nationals who are awaiting deportation, or were detained at repatriation centres such as at the Lindela Repatriation Centre. He said the screening process included the capturing of biometrics such as fingerprints, as well as photographs.
“In the period from April to July 2015 a total of 6 781 individuals awaiting deportation were screened. Out of those screened, 1 694 have been linked to crimes committed in the Republic of South Africa. Amongst the 1 694 individuals, some are wanted on warrants for arrest, others are due for court appearances and others to on going investigations,” said Radebe.
“The identified persons are wanted for crimes ranging from rape, housebreaking, robbery residential premises, common robbery and car-jacking, to cases of theft, assault, dealing and possession of drugs. Some of the warrants of arrest date back to 2002. Those that have been linked to criminal activities, their deportation process has been suspended pending their appearance to the courts,” he said.
Radebe explained that if the immigrants are found guilty, they would serve out their sentences in South Africa and be deported to their home countries immediately upon release.
Operation Fiela was widely criticised by civic society as “state-sponsored xenophobia”. It was launched by government following a spate of xenophobic attacks which left at least seven people dead in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal.
Numerous criminal cases were opened after the xenophobic attacks.
In June, the Lawyers for Human Rights organisation approached the High Court in Pretoria, and challenged the way in which operations had been conducted across the country.