Ten years after she entered the country as a 17-year-old refugee and living as an independent, hard-working, honest, churchgoing member of the community, a young woman is to be deported through the Lindela refugee deportation centre. File picture: Motshwari Mofokeng/African News Agency/ANA
On Tuesday morning, a young Zimbabwean woman whom we have known for about 10 years went to the Marabastad Refugee Office in Pretoria to renew her temporary refugee visa.

She has done this conscientiously and responsibly every three months for the past 10 years. During this period she has been with the same employer. She came to this country as a 17-year-old on her own to seek work. Her parents in Zimbabwe died and she could not find work in Bulawayo, her home town.

Not knowing how to support herself, she came to South Africa. She was granted asylum in 2008 and given a document to this effect.

At this time, work permits were not being issued. When she learnt that work permits were being issued, she went back to Pretoria to apply for a work permit. She was informed that she was already on the system and did not need a work permit. In fact, they said, her asylum permit was better than a work permit as it showed she had been here a long time.

The previous time she went to renew her visa in Pretoria she was called for an interview. She felt very excited that maybe she would at last be granted a work permit.

Imagine her horror, then, when on Tuesday morning she was rounded up with a group of many others and relieved of her original asylum papers. She was taken to a room with the others, told to wait to be deported there and then to Lindela (the refugee deportation centre) and locked in.

She burst into tears and told the officials concerned that she had been interviewed on the previous occasion and thought she might be in line for a work permit.

They replied that in her interview she had stated that she came to seek work and that this was not grounds for political asylum. I wonder if she had lied and made up a story about political asylum whether her plight would be different today. In fact, not being able to find work and living in harsh conditions under the Mugabe regime must surely be classified as political reasons.

This young woman, for the past three years, has been registered with Dam Technical College (Sasseta-accredited) and is studying part-time for a diploma in public relations. She is due to write her last two exams this week.

It was only because of her tearful pleading with the officials that she was allowed to return to her home. They warned her that she must take her chances because she could be arrested at any time on the street.

Ten years after she entered the country as a 17-year-old refugee and living as an independent, hard-working, honest, churchgoing member of the community, she is to be deported. It appears that she was not even going to be allowed to return to her home to pack up her belongings. Many others have faced the same plight this morning and are probably on their way to Lindela.

She has now been issued with a document which states: “Your application has been finally rejected as manifestly unfounded.” Is this the heartless, hard-hearted way South Africa treats refugees from our neighbouring countries?

I am stunned and angry and I hang my head in shame.

Margaret White

Maroeladal, Joburg

The Department of Home Affairs responds:

The woman entered South Africa as an asylum seeker and not an economic migrant. The outcome of her application is based on the reasons provided therein, hence the “manifestly unfounded” verdict.

By way of context, since 2009, the government has afforded Zimbabweans in the country an opportunity to regularise their stay in the country through the Dispensation for Zimbabwean Permit and even offered amnesty to those who would have obtained their documents fraudulently. Close to 300000 Zimbabweans applied. This process was followed by the Zimbabwean Special Permit issued in 2014 to about 200000 Zimbabweans who had qualified for the process. Currently, Zimbabweans have been afforded another opportunity to regularise their stay through the Zimbabwean Exemption Permit which expires in December 2021.

Those Zimbabweans who opted not to seize the opportunity would be expected to apply for mainstream visas/permits as would be expected of any other foreign national who wishes to live in South Africa.

In the case of this client, she had applied for asylum and her application was under adjudication. Due to inefficiencies in the system previously, it took months and, at times, years for a decision to be reached. In February 2017, the department launched the newly revamped Desmond Tutu Refugee Reception Office and introduced modernised processes that resulted in quicker turnaround times in relation to adjudicating and issuing outcomes for asylum-seeker applications and other visas. The continual renewal, for three months, of the client’s permit was due to the fact that her outcome had not been reached due to the reasons provided above.

The new, efficient and modernised processes have made it possible for the department to issue decisions and finalise outstanding applications. In terms of the law, if a decision is issued in the negative, the client is declared illegal in the country and they have no legal standing to remain in the country. In this regard, the deportation process is initiated.

There is no rounding up. Upon arrival in Lindela, respective embassies are notified of the presence of their citizens to finalise the deportation process.

I hope this provides clarity but I am available for further information.

Thabo Mokgola

Communication Services

Department of Home Affairs