Like so many foreign nationals, the crime Abdul Hamiez has been jailed for not having proper documentation.
Hamiez, who is in his thirties, was arrested on February 2 while he trained at a public outdoor gym on Durban’s St Georges Street.
He was moved to the Westville police station in December by the Department of Home Affairs (DHA).
Now he just wants to return home.
“I don’t have family in South Africa, nobody knows what happened to me. They can’t bail me out,” he said.
During Hamiez’s only court appearance, shortly after his arrest, he was fined R200 for being an undocumented foreigner, but was unable to pay the fine.
The NPO Lawyers for Human Rights has taken up his fight after they were alerted by DA MP Haniff Hoosen.
On Friday, the organisation issued a letter of demand to the department requesting Hamiez’s immediate release.
Attorney Thandeka Duma said: “We are assisting Hamiez. We sent an urgent letter to the DHA for his immediate release because you cannot detain someone for more than 120 days.”
According to South African immigration legislation, it was unlawful to detain illegal foreigners for more than 120 days, which begins from the date of arrest. A court order is required to extend the detention every 30 days of incarceration.
Siya Qoza, a department spokesperson, has denied it was guilty of any wrongdoing.
“We always strive to effect deportations within the prescribed period and ensure any extensions of detention are duly authorised by a magistrate, as prescribed by the law.”
However, Hoosen said: “The immigration section of the DHA operates like a mafia organisation and has very little regard for the rights of foreign nationals.
“They tried to justify Hamiez’s incarceration on the basis that he was in Westville Prison on another criminal offence.
“I checked and discovered Hamiez was only arrested for being without documentation,” said Hoosen.
There were eight illegal foreigners being held at Westville police station, including Hamiez, many of them there since December, said Hoosen.
A police source said the foreigners went on a hunger strike out of frustration.
“In November, we had as many as 27 foreigners. The problem in Westville is that some members of the community knowingly employ illegal foreigners. They hire them as cheap labourers and exploit their services. They take up all our space in the cells. Suspects who we arrest are often transferred elsewhere.
“Hamiez who has been in detention since February is in desperate need of medical attention for stomach complications. Each time he goes to hospital, it is for a day. Two policemen will accompany him. We have one vehicle dealing with complaints and the other with crime prevention. Each time he goes to hospital, one vehicle becomes unavailable,” said the source.
Qoza said anyone detained in a police facility became their responsibility. “The DHA could not have known of any health challenge the detainee faced unless informed by police. They are also not supposed to effect any release of detainees, under the Immigration Act, unless requested to do so by the DHA.
“Our department ensures that vehicles are available to provinces for the speedy transfer of detainees to Lindela Repatriation Centre (Gauteng) for deportation,” said Qoza.
Hoosen said police had the added burden of housing and caring for illegal immigrants because the DHA was shirking its duty.
Police had not responded to questions at the time of going to publication.