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Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, minister of home affairs, has admitted that refugees and asylum seekers are getting a raw deal from some police officers.
She singled out officers from the Jeppe and Hillbrow police stations and branded xenophobia as a cruel form of racism which should not be tolerated.
Mapisa-Nqakula made the admissions at her first public meeting with refugees and asylum-seekers at the Braamfontein Civic Centre on Wednesday, at which refugees took turns to describe the suffering they are enduring in South Africa and their brutalisation by the police.
She said the conduct of police officers shown on a recent SABC Special Assignment programme extorting money from asylum seekers and beating them up was unacceptable and disgraceful.
"I am not saying the police should not do their work but some of the mistakes they are making, like the mistakes mentioned here (at the meeting) are not right," Mapisa-Nqakula said, amid much applause from the sizeable group of asylum-seekers, mostly Zimbabweans.
She lamented the "lack of leadership" at Jeppe and Hillbrow police stations, saying many reports and complaints had been raised against the conduct of officers from these two stations.
But she also stressed that asylum-seekers must report any abuse to police authorities for prompt action.
Asylum-seekers complained to the minister of being badly ill-treated by police officers and sometimes badly assaulted.
Some claimed they were paying bribes to officers to avoid being taken to the Lindela Repatriation Centre.
Others claimed their valid refugee asylum papers were routinely torn up by police officers who said they did not recognise these papers but instead recognised "bribe money".
Mapisa-Nqakula promised to hold regular meetings with refugees and asylum-seekers or their representative organisations to address their concerns.
She said the best way was to bring the ministers in charge of the police and social welfare to her next meeting so they could collectively tackle the issues.
Mapisa-Nqakula said a commission of inquiry she established to probe several recent deaths at Lindela had completed its report and submitted it to her.
She had planned to release it to the public yesterday but had not done so because she had not yet been able to meet the commissioners to discuss their report.
The minister said she would release it soon.